Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Working Memory

During one of my recent proffesional development seminars, I learned that many high school seniors have extremely short "spans." A span is the amount of items one can hold in their short term memory at one time. The teacher running the proffessional development seminar said that it is usual for her seniors to have a span of 2. The average adult, today, has a span of 5 to 7. Her argument was that young people do not need to memorize things anymore-- they just jot it in their cell phone for later. I am very interested in this phenomena. As a future biology teacher, I know that students must be able to manipulate multiple vocabulary words at once to build complex ideas. If students are only able to keep two ideas in their head at once, how are they to build the connections between ideas necessary for long term memory retrieval? I love that technology has helped people stay organized and have vasts amounts of information at our fingertips. I think students may need some old school practice, though, on how to think about multiple things at once in order to create thinking schemes. I could be wrong, though. If people have access to technology all of the time, could they use it as pseudo working memory? This new information is particularly important to me because I am in a discipline with many new vocabulary words and facts. I believe these terms and ideas need to clumped into categories, a mental schema, and linked or spiraled to many other concepts for full understanding. However, I was thinking of having roughly five over arching categories each time...I think only two categories could be limiting. I definitely need to do more research on the topic.

Proffesional Develpment

Today at Wayne Memorial we had the chance to attend two seminars on the use of technology in our discipline. I went to the science seminars.

The first one that I attended was using the Xtranormal, text-to-movie website. It is a really great tool for students to use technology in a creative manner to communicate ideas. The website is free, http://www.xtranormal.com/. You can determine the characters, setting, camera angles, soundtracks, noises, expressions, movements, and the dialogue. We are using this next week, having students create commercials for organelles. I will post again how it went!

The second seminar I attended was on sequence learning. It was a very interesting project developed by Boston University. The program requires java, a free download, and can be found at http://cns.bu.edu/celest/ug_curriculum/sequencelearning.html. Basically, students play the the program to determine their "span" or how many items they can hold in their head at one time. Then, students develop a scientific investigation to understand possible effects or non-effects on people's spans. For instance, a news article came out that blueberries are a brain power food. So, students had a sibling take the test, wait a few hours, eat a quart of blueberries, and take the test again. They would have to determine controls, dependent and independent variables, repeatability, and sources of error. The curriculum was developed because many students can rehearse the steps of the scientific process but can not actually apply it. So, I thought it was a creative way to engage students in the scientific process while gaining self knowledge on learning strategies. (For instance, while introducing the topic, you can mention anagrams, making pictures, clumping, repetition, short term and long term memory processes.) I encourage everyone to check out these sites to see if you may be able to apply them to your class!