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The Fish in the Tree: Rethinking Traditional Standards of Intelligence

Updated: Jun 10

By Cade Gafford

While in college, I remember having a conversation with my mother that changed the way I view education. After coming home for winter break, and having accumulated a high GPA, my mom praised my hard work and achievements. Along with the praise, however, came a statement that forever stuck with me. She went on to say, "Oh, you're so lucky that you are smart. I was never any good at school."

For context, it is true that my mother has never been great at math or science, and her reading is usually limited to the occasional health and fashion magazine. Nevertheless, she IS an exceptional designer with a keen eye for color and composition and also knows a great deal about skincare (highlighted by her time as an esthetician). So as the words left her mouth, I couldn't help but have an epiphany.

Largely our education system rewards and respects those who excel in their studies. I happened to be one of those individuals. I loved asking questions, thoroughly enjoyed discussions, and maintained a thirst for more knowledge—making me an ideal student in many ways. As for my mom, she struggled with her standardized testing and received low grades which left her feeling "dumb" in relation to her peers. Not only did this affect her interest in learning, but it also severely damaged her self-confidence. Since her youth, she has carried around the belief that she isn't smart, but in truth, her competencies simply exist in different areas. To summarize this point, there is the famous quote that says, "Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

I relay this story, not to condemn common education practices, but to draw attention to a gap in current processes. When traditional studies within the classroom remain the sole way to facilitate learning, some students are inevitably left behind. That's why MindSpark has given one particularly effective learning method, Problem-Based Learning (PBL), a 21st century makeover. PBL is one of the oldest and most effective learning models. It positions students in real world, professional contexts involving problems of policy, process, and ethics while also allowing them the ability to develop their unique skillsets. PBL transcends the traditional educational community to embrace entrepreneurs, researchers, and artificial intelligence, providing a context for all children to achieve their creative and intellectual potential.

The results speak for themselves; educators have who have adopted the model have reported increased student engagement and higher academic achievement, especially for typically underperforming students. Additionally, communities report increased support for schools within the model by over 82% compared to traditional practices. Lastly, educators engaged in our robust PBL method report higher job satisfaction and seek more professional learning.

Professional learning and support for PBL does not take years but hours, and they're not exclusively reserved for the most “innovative” schools. So if you're interested and want to help a fish find its way back to open water, click the button below!


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