Information Age Education
   Issue Number 210
May 31, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

School Smarts, Street Smarts, and Computer Smarts

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

We are all lifelong learners. This learning occurs throughout every day—whether we are in school or not, and whether we are awake or sleeping.

Robert Sternberg has long been a world leader in thinking and writing about human intelligence. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Sternberg's definition of human intelligence is a “mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection and shaping of, real-world environments relevant to one's life" (Sternberg, 1985, p. 45), which means that intelligence is how well an individual deals with environmental changes throughout their lifespan. Sternberg's theory comprises three parts: componential, experiential, and practical.

Notice the emphasis on a person dealing with (adapting to) environmental changes throughout life. He is not talking just about climate change. Rather, he is talking about all changes occurring in one’s environment. Computers, cell phones, and artificial intelligence are examples of such changes.

Sternberg’s three-component theory of intelligence discusses:
  1. Componential, or innate giftedness in solving problems that are presented to you. The typical aim of an IQ test is to measure this type of intelligence. Historically, it has often been stated that this is the intelligence you are born with and that it cannot be changed. However, we now know the brain has considerable plasticity and can change for the better or the worse. Lead, mercury, and a variety of air pollutants can decrease IQ (Roberts,12/31/2009). Being raised bilingual can increase cognitive abilities. Quoting from Osborne (4/5/2016):

    Bilingual children showed more activity in areas of the brain related to 'executive function', which governs tasks such as problem-solving or shifting attention.

    “Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practice at tasks related to executive function," said Naja Ferjan Ramírez, the lead author of a paper about the study.

    This suggests that bilingualism shapes not only language development, but also cognitive development more gen erally.

  2. Experiential intelligence—often called school smarts (book learning), or the ability to do well in school. Nowadays, a major goal of precollege education is to prepare students to be college ready or job ready. During the past two decades in the United States, there has been decreasing emphasis on preparing students to be job ready, and increasing emphasis has been placed on being college ready. There has been a significant decline in the availability of well-paying jobs that require only high school graduation or less.

  3. Practical intelligence—often called street smarts. Historically, in the United States, people were proud of the level of “Yankee ingenuity” of the pioneers. This can be thought of as a type of street smarts. It is the ability to figure out how to solve the problems and accomplish the tasks that one encounters in everyday life.
The school smarts and street smarts components of Sternberg’s three-part definition of intelligence suggest to me the following types of questions.
  1. How should we use our formal schooling time? What learning might best occur while in school?

  2. How should we use our informal (outside of school) learning time? What learning might best occur outside of school?

  3. How should answers to 1 and 2 change with the development of new technology, such as artificially intelligent robots and computers?
School Smarts versus Street Smarts

My 3/17/2017 Google search of the expression school smarts versus street smarts returned about 65,000 results. One specific document that caught my attention is Berkun’s blog entry, Book Smarts vs Street Smarts (Berkun, 2/9/2010):

There is no doubt in my mind street smarts kicks book smarts ass. To be street smart means you have situational awareness. (See You can assess the environment you are in, who is in it, and what the available angles are. Being on the street, or in the trenches, or whatever low to the ground metaphor you prefer, requires you learn to trust your own judgment about people and what matters. This skill, regardless of where you develop it, is of great value everywhere in life regardless of how far from the streets you are.

Book smarts, as I’ve framed it, means someone who is good at following the rules. These are people who get straight A’s [in school], sit in the front, and perhaps enjoy crossword puzzles. They like things that have singular right answers. They like to believe the volume, and precision, of their knowledge can somehow compensate for their lack of experience applying it in the real world. Thinking about things has value, but imagining how you will handle a tough situation is a world away from actually being in one.

The prime distinction between street smarts and book smarts is who is at the center of the knowledge. On the street, it’s you. In a book, it’s you trying to absorb someone else’s take on the world, and however amazing the writer is, you are at best one degree removed from the actual experience.

Personally, my 21 years of formal schooling provided me with a large amount of book smarts, while the other 60 years of my life have provided me with a combination of book smarts and street smarts. Of course, that is an over-simplification. Throughout life, a person gains in street smarts, even while engaged in formal schooling. And, throughout life, a person receives information from many sources that falls into the category of book smarts.

I like to think about the typical precollege teacher who has had perhaps 16 or 17 years of schooling and then begins teaching. The first five or six years on the job provide this teacher with the teaching-oriented street smarts needed to be an effective teacher. Subsequent years of teaching and life are a balance of gaining in teaching smarts, other street smarts, and book smarts.

I also like the example of being a parent. Informal and formal instruction in how to be a parent begins at birth. Some of a typical parent’s years of formal schooling are certainly relevant and useful. However, a huge amount of learning to be a parent is on-the-job training while one is a parent. If you are a parent, spend some time thinking about where additional parenting-oriented schooling might have been useful to you

Artificial Intelligence

Research in artificial intelligence is producing computers and robots that have a type of intelligence. For example, a computer system can solve the types of math problems that students study up through their first two of years of college. My word processor does relatively well in identifying and suggesting corrections to my misspelled words and errors in grammar. My GPS far exceeds my location-finding capabilities.

Some researchers are exploring the “IQ” of computers as measured by tests designed for humans. A 2015 study at MIT determined that the computer system they were using had the IQ of an average four-year-old child (MIT Technology Review, 10/1/2015). Another 2015 research study explores the development of a computer system that can solve verbal comprehension questions in an IQ test (Wang, et al., 5/29/2015).

I have written extensively about the need to fully integrate education about and using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into our PreK-12 schooling (Moursund, 12/23/2016). Today’s children are gaining quite a bit of ICT street smarts. Schools are beginning to make progress in providing students with some ICT school smarts, but they still have a very long way to go in this endeavor. Ludwig van Broekhuizen’s recent research report indicates that, while a steadily increasing number of schools have good connectivity and a substantial number of computers, on average there is sparse use of these facilities and quite small impact on student learning (van Broekhuizen, 2017). Quoting from the report:

Learners’ use of digital tools and other technology to support their learning in our K-12 systems continues to be sporadic and often not observed despite the proliferation of use outside of school. Based on an analysis of three years of direct classroom observations in K-12 schools across 39 states and 11 countries, AdvancED found there are still relatively few classrooms in which the use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of a student’s school experience. In more than half (52.7 percent) of classrooms direct observations show no evidence students are using technology to gather, evaluate, or use information for learning; two-thirds of classrooms show no evidence of students using technology to solve problems, conduct research, or to work collaboratively.

I must admit that this report nearly led me to tears. In my opinion, Artificial Intelligence (machine intelligence) is perhaps the weakest link in our current informal and formal educational systems. If a computer can solve or greatly help in solving a problem that a person encounters, what do we want this person to know about such capabilities (and limitations) of computers, and to know about how to make use of these capabilities? What types of informal and formal education are good for helping students augment their own intelligence with machine intelligence? Why does our educational system find it so difficult to formulate and implement forward-looking answers to these questions?

References and Resources

Berkun, S. (2/9/2010). Book smarts vs. street smarts. Retrieved 4/27/2017 from

MIT Technology Review (10/1/2015). IQ test result: Advanced AI machine matches four-year-old child's score. Retrieved 4/27/2017 from

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The Fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Access the book online at

Osborne, S. (4/5/2016). What being bilingual does to your brain. Independent. Retrieved 4/25/2017 from

Roberts, J. (12/31/2009). Toxic effects of lead and mercury. Retrieved 4/25/2017 from

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

van Broekhuizen, L. (2017). The paradox of classroom technology: Despite proliferation and access, students not using technology for learning. AdvancED. Retrieved 5/4/2017 from

Wang, H., et al. (5/29/2015). Solving verbal comprehension questions in IQ test by
knowledge-powered word embedding. Retrieved 4/27/2017 from

Free Educational Resources from IAE

IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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