Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"The neurons that fire together... wire together."

Attended a regional science conference today. It surpassed my expectations and left me personally re-energized about teaching science, and feeling good about the prospects for science ed. in our region. The keynote speaker, John Cafarella, gave a really interesting presentation on learning, memory, and the brain, which contained many bits of information that made me think about my teaching. I figured I might as well share them here. (He gave us some sources but did not say which info came from which source).

We have 5 memory lanes (ways that we remember things):

*Procedural - learning through practicing how to do something.

*Episodic - learning through association with a place or event. He pointed out that if you set up a bulletin board with information about a topic, then teach that subject while refering to the bulletin board, then even if you take the information off the bulletin board, during an assessment kids can look up at where it used to be and remember the information better. This has some real implications for the classroom! Also, it's important to give tests in the same place you taught the material. Unfortunately, too many Regents exams and other such tests are given in very different locations from where the learning took place.

*Automatic - Learning something "by heart," so you just know it. A limited amount of drill is necessary for things that should be committed to automatic memory, such as basic math facts, sight words, etc.

*Semantic - Learning by reading or hearing information, through symbols, words, language. The weakest of the 5 memory lanes.

*Emotional - Learning associated with an emotion, either positive or negative - a double-edged sword. Children learn well when the material is associated with positive emotions and they feel safe. Children can get "emotionally hijacked" when they are trying to learn but experiencing strong negative emotions, such as anxiety or fear. Don't be a bully in your classroom, or some kids will "freeze up" out of fear! The strongest of the 5 memory lanes.

Primacy Recency - The brain learns best what it learned first and last.

*Children remember the most material from the first 14 and last 17 minutes of a 40 minute period. - How does this affect the structure of a lesson? What am I doing during the first part of my class? How am I wrapping up my lesson?

Avoid "Open Eye Coma." Most children can focus for a number of minutes equal to their age +2 minutes, but it tops out at about 15-20 minutes of true attention, even for adults. You can "reset" students' attention by changing the type of activity every 10-15 minutes, or by briefly interrupting an activity for 1-2 minutes, letting them think about something different, then returning to the activity.

Anyway, there was much more than this, but these were the most interesting & relevant ideas as far as my own teaching is concerned. I think I will summarize the presentation for my staff, and try to start a discussion of how we can best make use of this material.

2 Comments:

Blogger John said...

The best way for me to remember things is by doing it, but the funny things is that I only need like 5 minutes and then I cant do the thing by heart the rest of my life.
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Blogger Sarah said...

you know for some people it is amazing that teachers from the USA have such a high level of qualification that attend scientific conferences.

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