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Winnipeg high school science teacher one of four Canadians competing to find out who is the brainiest in the land

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So, you think you're smart, do you?

How smart, exactly? Smarter than that guy sitting across from you? Smarter than most of your friends and all of your relatives? Smarter, definitely, than your boss? Smarter than anyone else in the room?

How about this: smarter than every other Canadian?

For better or worse, that's the possibility facing Winnipeg-born scientist/educator Marshall Carroll, who was selected as one of the four final contestants for the upcoming CBC special Canada's Smartest Person. The two-hour TV event, which airs March 18 at 8 p.m. on CBC, will test Carroll and three competitors with questions and challenges focused on the six areas of knowledge specified in Harvard University professor Dr. Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences -- visual, logical, physical, linguistic, musical and social.

"I was wondering, how pigeonholed am I into the science-geek area? It was a bit of an experiment for me, to see how broad I am in these other areas," said Carroll, a science teacher at Vincent Massey Collegiate who also happens to hold a PhD in theoretical quantum chemistry (a branch of chemistry that focuses on how electrons are distributed in atoms and molecules; its practical applications can range from improvements in pharmaceutical drug effectiveness to more efficient automobile fuels to improved aerodynamics in airplane-wing surfaces).

Carroll, who is also an aspiring songwriter and standup comedian and has appeared as an extra in several locally shot movies and TV shows, said he happened upon the application for Canada's Smartest Person while reading the news on CBC's website several months ago.

The multi-disciplinary approach to intelligence intrigued him, so he decided to apply. "Surprised" doesn't begin, however, to describe his reaction when the program's producers contacted him and began the lengthy process of interviews that led to his selection as one of the show's four finalists.

"It looked like it might be fun; I talked to my wife, and she said, 'Why not? Go for it,'" Carroll recalled. "I saw the part about multiple intelligences, and as teachers, we do some of this stuff all the time. So I figured, why not give it a shot?

"I was shocked when they got in touch with me. I had a Skype interview, and I thought it went well; then they called a week later, and did another interview that lasted an hour.... Then I got another e-mail, asking me to fill out a skills inventory -- all sorts of questions about what kinds of intelligence I'd be strongest at; then they called a fourth time and said I was one of the four they wanted to come to Toronto. And I was, like, 'What? Really? Are you serious? Well, OK, then.'"

It wasn't until after he'd been picked as one of the show's contestants that he found himself wondering just exactly what he'd got himself into.

"After the excitement of the phone call, that night I literally didn't sleep," Carroll said. "I kept changing my mind every three minutes -- 'I can't do this -- I'm representing teachers, and they're going to be mad if I do poorly.' My wife finally said, 'Well, do it if you want; if not, then don't do it.'

"I finally decided, 'I was chosen as one of four (finalists); I'm just going to have fun with it, do my best in the challenges and have a good time.' I thought, 'I'm turning 50 this July; when is a chance like this going to come my way again?'... If I had said no, I would have ended up watching the show and going, 'I could have done that.' I would have regretted not doing it."

Carroll, whose family includes three children -- daughters aged 25 and 22 and a son, 20 -- flew to Toronto two weeks ago for the day-long (17 hours, actually) taping of the show that will air next weekend. He's contractually prohibited from discussing the outcome, but Carroll did say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and that he was very impressed by the other competitors on Canada's Smartest Person.

"I could tell right away that Laura, the graduate student, was very smart," he explained. "And the football player -- well, you know, there's this stereotype about football players, and this guy broke all the stereotypes; he's in Mensa -- very articulate, very smart. And the performance artist/poetry-slam fellow was very clever and very quick. I would sometimes catch myself saying, 'Wow, look at these people... and then there's me.'

"Was I intimidated by them? No, because they were all so nice. We became very good friends."

Carroll added that one of the biggest thrills of being part of Canada's Smartest Person was getting the chance to meet the show's host, Gerry Dee -- who, as a former teacher who became a successful standup comic, is more than a bit of an inspiration for the joke- and song-writing Winnipeg science teacher.

"He told me, 'You keep trying, Marshall. That's what I did, and look what happened to me.' He was great; we're now following each other on Twitter, which is a nice step."


Canada's Smartest Person

Hosted by Gerry Dee

Sunday, March 18 at 8 p.m.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2012 G1

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