Sunday, July 28, 2013

Still Moving with Little Feedback

I'm still reading, researching, and applying the information that I'm getting into videos. It is a bit overwhelming trying to sort through the information and put into the world of 8th graders, but I feel like I'm doing an okay job.

I really look forward to seeing this in action and how it will affect the learning environment. All the prep work is very time consuming, but it will all pay off, I just know it. I'm  not getting much feedback on my videos, and so it's hard to move forward without any constructive criticism, but I'll press on and keep posting anyway. Feedback is so important, and thankfully I have a student or two and a couple of colleagues helping out.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Brain Video 2 - Making Connections

Here is the introduction to our second instructional video.

Brain Video 2 - Making Connections from Amanda Causey on Vimeo.

Classroom Brain Video 1

I have been unable to find time to blog about my research lately. The following is part of the reason why. This is our intro to our first instructional video for the year. Please let me know if anything needs to be changed or added. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Brain Video 1 from Amanda Causey on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Reviewing the Elements of Learning - Memory

The chapter titled, "Reviewing the Elements of Learning" in How the Brain Learns Mathematics is fascinating. It addresses many areas of the learning process including memory, practice, gender differences, and learning styles.

The first part on memory was incredibly engaging. One of the major issues I have in my classroom is that my students do very well on the practices, and in most cases the quizzes, but when it comes time for the test, they cannot apply it. When they do test corrections, they often need some prompting or leading questions to determine the best approach or remember the steps in the process. In fact, most of what we learn in school is not permanently stored (Sousa 2008).

There is some information that we remember for a very short period of time. This type of information is put into our immediate memory. Other information that we remember for a slightly longer period of time, but still not for forever, is stored in our working memory (Squire & Kandel, 1999). Finally there is the permanent storage where we really want the math we teach to go. The figure below is the diagram from Sousa's book that illustrates these stages of memory.

(Image {Figure 3.1}unavailable at this time. I am waiting on permissions request from the publisher.)

The working memory can only handle a few items at a time. This area is typically where my students are storing the information I am giving them. The amount of items that can be held in the working memory changes with age. For preschool toddlers it is limited to two items, preadolescences can hold three to seven items, and adolescents can hold five to nine. 

(Image {Table 3.1} unavailable at this time. I am waiting on permissions request from the publisher.)

There is also a time limit for the working memory. For our adolescent and adult students it is between ten and twenty minutes. This means that in order to continually engage our students, we need to make sure we have a solid plan in place each class period that changes the pace and interaction every ten minutes or so. The way our scope and sequence is laid out, we are not teaching them more than their working memories can handle. We need to get our student to understand that what we are teaching them in class is not an entirely new set of information. It is a small piece being added to what they already know. If we can get them  start thinking about what they already know before we begin teaching them, this could help ease the anxiety levels and allow their brains to process through the information.

The goal is not to maintain the information in working memory. It is instead, to get it transferred into their permanent storage. The approach we take and the willingness of the student to participate will determine whether or not this happens. Our students need to have time to process the information again and again. This reprocessing of the information is called rehearsal. There are different types of rehearsal though. Prior to the eighth grade, these students rely heavily on their rote memory. Math facts, steps to convert numbers, formulas, etc all require that they utilize their rote memory. In eighth grade they are asked to go much deeper. They need to be able to relate what they already know to what it is they are being asked to do. They now have to associate new learning with prior knowledge. Sousa states, "When students get very little time for, or training in, elaborative rehearsal, they resort more frequently to rote rehearsal for nearly all processing. Consequently, they fail to make the associations or discover the relationships that only elaborative rehearsal can provide." He goes on later to say, "there is almost no transfer to long-term memory without rehearsal."
To determine whether the information will move into long term storage, the working memory asks, "does this make sense", and "does it have meaning?" In order for it to makes sense to the student, there has to be understanding of the material and part of establishing meaning is connecting the information to something they already know. When a students asks why they need to know something, a popular answer with teachers is, "It'll be on the test." This only raises anxiety in the student and does not establish meaning. We put so much time into preparing our lesson to teach understanding and very little to establish meaning. Often times our students can work through word problems and computation just fine until they get to what we call "trick questions." Children are naturally prone to responding automatically. This is part of their impulsive nature. When answering a question, we want them to use their prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that generates a plan to solve a problem based on "common sense" or "careful reading." Try answering the question below that was given in Mr. Sousa's book.
  • An aquarium contains 9 fish. All but 6 die. How many fish remain?

If you automated your response, you would say 3 because of the key word remain. However, the answer is 6 if you read it more carefully. It is not that our students don't understand this, it's that their prefrontal cortex matures very slowly and is not fully matured until 22-24 years of age. We have to find a way to make them aware of this. The more aware they are of their brain and how it functions, the more likely they may be to slow down.

In the next blog, I will discuss my thoughts on the other half of this chapter.

Sousa. D.A.. (2008). 'Reviewing the Elements of Learning'.How the brain learns mathematics. pp. 49-72. 
                Thousand Oaks: Corwin Pr

Squire, L.R., & Kandel, E.R. (1999). Memory: From mind to molecules. New York: W. H. Freeman.