27 December 2005

Memory and Learning

Using "cognitive science" in the classroom is quite the rage right now. There are aspects of this that make sense to me---if we understand how the brain learns and processes information, could we not use this knowledge to help our students? The drawbacks at this point are centered around the lack of information. Brain research in this area---especially as it may apply to education---is pretty new.

LiveScience has a couple of articles about recent work in cognitive science as it applies to memory. One of the keys is the ability to predict whether or not new information will be needed later---along with a judgement of how well the material has been learned. Prediction as a skill is something that is being taught heavily at the elementary level. But most of this work is centered around fictional text---predicting what will happen in a story or what a character is feeling. In science, we ask students to make predictions about what they will see in a demonstration or experiment. But we rarely ask students to make predictions about what information will be important in the future. I'm not sure that this can be done with younger kids. Small frontal lobes limit mental projections in time. With high school kids, we usually tell them why information is important and/or how it can be used. What would happen if we instead asked them to tell us?

The other LiveScience article I was reading was about "false memories." These are surprisingly easy to create. I did this with my AP kids recently. I read them a list of ~15 terms all relating to sleep: slumber, nap, dream, etc. Then we chatted for a 10 - 20 seconds to let the list pass from their immediate memory. I next asked them to raise their hands if they heard me say the word "nap" when I read the list. Hands went up. What about "cow"? No hands. And "sleep"? Nearly every hand went up. But I never said the word "sleep," only a lot of things in that general category. The article describes research similar to this demonstration, except with images.

Helping students to manipulate their own memories will likely not have a large impact on those who have an innate ability to monitor their own learning. It seems, however, that this could be quite a powerful classroom tool for struggling learners.

1 comment:

graycie said...

The idea of having kids predict what information will be important is very interesting. I have never thought of it before. I think I canimcorporate it into their persuasive research papers later in the year.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. (the wheels turn)