Musings on Memory work

Recent fascination with brain science and its relevance to learning has led me to think about the importance of good memorisation skills. A bit of context to provide premise:

This video (TED talk) by Lara Boyd describe how the brain changes due to stimuli and learning. It ranges from chemical, structural to functional.

It ties in nicely with Information Processing theory  which posits that learning happens when stimulus processed in working-memory (Boyd’s chemical change) moves to long-term memory (Boyd’s structural change). This learning theory makes sense to me, perhaps because of its strong parallelism with how computers work (full disclosure: I’m a computing teacher so this may be rather biased).

It also ties in nicely with Retrieval Practice which the Learning Scientists explain as a useful study method for what we want to remember later, i.e. really learn.  This corresponds to Boyd’s structural change in the brain.

Good memory is important for long-term learning. Yet, as a “lower-order thinking” skill,  it is not given enough focus and sometimes ridiculed as a process of regurgitating useless facts. On an old post on multiplication, I said that one of the problems kids have is that they don’t know their times table. The lack of automacity creates extra cognitive load and can create/exacerbate maths anxiety.

I’m an ESL-speaker. I work hard at growing my vocabulary and that means memorising new words. When I’m tired, words don’t come as easily and I’m more prone to make grammatical mistakes. It can be like this with students learning subject-specific jargon. We’ve got to give them opportunities to learn and memorise the words.

Anyway, I thought that perhaps the reason memory work has low value currently is due to wide espousal of Blooms Taxonomy, a hierarchy learning objectives with Remembering right at the bottom of the hierarchy.  My musings on this include:

  • ‘Taxonomy’  is a way to classify, not necessarily a hierarchy.
  • ‘Levels’ don’t necessarily equate to value; lower levels provide the foundation on which higher levels build upon.
  • Why is it sequential instead of spiral?
  • It’s more a system. A spiral system that cycles from recall up to synthesis and on through next lot of learning material

I was actually surprised to see that my criticism based on experience have already been noted in Wikipedia’s entry.

Memorisation is not evil. I admit it shouldn’t be the only focus and we should develop higher order thinking skills. Sometimes, when we focus on one thing, we do forget the bigger picture. This post is to re-calibrate the import of  memorisation as a crucial thinking and learning skill.

Print Friendly

Inspiring hope…I hope to do so

My school “hopes to inspire hope in others and be a source of hope in the future”. In other words, it seeks to inspire global hope.

I’ve been ruminating this since starting there last year. What is hope? How can we inspire global hope? What does it mean to inspire? Am I hopeful? Do I inspire? Do I inspire hope? Can I help my students inspire and be a source of hope?

I have a chance to answer some of these questions as part of an action research towards experienced teacher accreditation.

Action research is  a good way for me to be more systematic about how I gather and use data as I refine my teaching practice. I think John Spencer explains what it is very well in this video:

 

The focus of my action research is wellbeing, and in particular, fostering hope. Just as John said in the video, the research project started with a lit review. Defining terms was difficult; ditto for finding what data to collect and how. My lit review (PDF) pretty much documents my journey into defining what it means for me to promote hope, as a classroom teacher conducting an action research. Here’s an excerpt:

Hope is one of the wellbeing dimensions (ACARA, 2010). Hope is also a contextual word that implies optimism or positive mutability. Hope is also associated with grit, defined as passion and perseverance to pursue long-term goals (Duckworth, 2016) or higher-order goals students deem personally worthy of on-going effort (Shechtman et al., 2013). Thus, hope can be viewed as a ‘skill’ that can be learned and exercised with effort in the context or pursuit of valued goals.

Hope is not blind faith. Hope is found in actions. Actions create a better world; a preferred future – to quote from ACARA’s Digital Technologies curriculum. Actions build capacity and confidence on which optimism associated with ‘hope’ lies.

In a classroom, actions include performing positive self-regulation skills. Self-regulation (SR) skills are the skills students practice as they engage – or avoid – learning. Perhaps the SR skill most aligned with hope is self-efficacy – the contextual confidence in one’s ability.

In my action research project, I will be using Barry Zimmerman’s SR learning model which is an ongoing cyclical process of forethought, performance, and self-reflection….kinda like the action research model… kinda like the design process we use in the computing curriculum.

Barry Zimmerman's Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) model

Barry Zimmerman’s Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) model

I’m still in the planning phase of the action research. As mentioned in my lit review, I have to design my teaching and learning program to incorporate teaching SR skills (promoting wellbeing is integrated vs an adjunct to academic learning) – and then measure and analyse and evaluate. There is so much to do yet!

However, I am excited. I hope (ha!) that this action research project will see some growth in hope in my students.

I reckon hope might as well be my one word this year.

Print Friendly

Teaching Thinking

There are currently a couple of initiatives at my school that target thinking as a skill; I’ve been fortunate enough to be somewhat involved in both..

One of these is using the Philosophy framework, i.e. Socrates’ “Logos, Pathos, Ethos” to unpack how we think when faced with situations where we need to make decisions or we need to be persuasive. In a nutshell, what is at the forefront is logical reasoning for Logos, emotions for pathos and ethics, character and wisdom drawn from experiences for ethos. This is a simple framework that is very accessible for year 9s to whom this initiative is targeted.

Another one uses the neuroscience framework, i.e. “Pre-frontal Cortex (PFC), amygdala and hippocampus” – parts of the brain. In a nutshell, amygdala is responsible for our ‘flight or fight’ response or when we allow our impulses and emotions to rule our behaviour and thoughts. The hippocampus is in charge of storing our memories, like a scrapbook of our lives. The PFC – which is not fully developed in adolescent brains – takes care of thinking and decision-making and so, moderating our behaviour. This framework is very accessible for year 8s to whom this is targeted.

In Software Design and Development – and really many (all?) subjects, students need to think logically particularly when critically analysing, evaluating and making recommendations. In SDD, we look at software from the perspective of users and developers and yet I’m finding that my students are not leveraging their extensive experience using software to inform their thinking. Seems like such a waste of resource, right?

So, I told them about the 2 frameworks above. The idea is that the frameworks provide them with another way to view contexts. For example, when they struggled to name features of a banking system, a prompt using their own experience in banking opened a flood of features in far greater detail…and stories (gotta love those). A student who often struggles with staying on-task and is regularly disruptive was also quick to change when prompted with “you’re letting your amygdala rule; try a bit more PFC”.

In our last lesson discussing software installation methods, a richer discussion was had as students were challenged to think of examples drawing from their experience and how they may have felt (connecting to another syllabus content: impact of software to users). And so then, the logic of choosing one method over another makes more sense, from a social-ethical perspective. It may well merit adding to my list of ways to teach empathy.

I’m under no illusions of the impact or permanence of these changes.  What I’ve done is planted seeds that I hope to nourish in the next few terms as I help my students face the HSC and the wider world beyond. I’m teaching them to draw deep into resources within themselves as a way to connect beyond themselves (is any other way possible?). Teaching thinking skills is all part of building student agency.

This may be an unconventional approach to teaching the syllabus but for me, it makes sense. It aligns with my own industry experience and consequently, vision of introducing more of humanities into learning about and creating digital technology.

Print Friendly

Get these 5 right for better oral presentations

The year 11 Software Design & Dev PBL Delta X was to culminate with a pitch presentation to a panel of judges. As part of the project, I gave the students an opportunity to present just to assess their presentation skills. While I had a few who came across as confident and prepared, the majority were not.  I was very lucky to get Melissa Pye, an advertising/startup pitch specialist, come and do a workshop with my students before the pitch.

Melissa went through the steps of creating a pitch deck – the “pitch in a nutshell” which really emphasised elements of the PBL giving it more authenticity. I loved that she mentioned the importance of understanding the problem including audience and purpose as well as how designed solutions can help make it easy, faster and/or cheaper.

Melissa also went through 5 elements to consider when actually delivering the presentation. I believe that these are really useful for all types of presentation, including delivering instruction …meaning, it’s also useful for teachers like me. Here are the 5 elements and a bit more blurb about what Melissa said and did.

5_PresentationElements

Mindset

Think positive. Think confident. Think authentic. Think passionate.

Melissa reminded us about being prepared including anticipating questions. Having done the prep work, the next bit is to trust in this prep that the presentation will go well.

Body Language

Be big and open – stand with legs apart, back straight, arms on the side not crossed. Use open palm instead of pointing finger. Look at the audience (look at noses or foreheads if you struggle with eye contact).

Melissa got each student to stand up and say something. In this way, she was able to provide individual constructive feedback, much needed by many of my students. To one student self-conscious about being over 6-foot tall, she said “You’re lucky you’re tall. Be tall.” It’s pretty amazing how much ‘presence’ can be evoked with appropriate body language.

Voice

Vary pitch (lower pitch is preferred), volume and speed. Variety adds interest.

Again, after modelling, Melissa gave each student individual feedback. She was able to draw out impressive volume from 2 of my quietest students. This was amazing to watch and the transformation is palpable.

Words

Use succinct, positive and confident words. Technical jargon is not necessarily a no-no as it can indicate specialist knowledge.

Melissa emphasised the need to choose appropriate words and phrases. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice saying the words you will say.

Pause

Use pause before or after a key point to emphasise it.

Melissa modelled this to great effect.

 

I’m happy to report that my students employed what they learned in this workshop. Their pitch presentations were so much better than the trial presentations. It was so good, I was gushing (haha).

Anyway, developing oral presentation skills is important and the above are good pointers to help teachers help/teach students. I highly recommend practice sessions and giving students specific feedback just like Melissa did. Another useful post is by Erik Palmer in BIE (Buck Institute for Education), “Speaking Matters! Improving Project Presentations“.

Print Friendly

Delta X

I’ve been mulling about what to do with my year 11 software (SDD) students for their 2nd project/assessment task. Apart from the syllabus outcomes, I wanted one of the outcomes to be an appreciation of how technology can be transformative and that they themselves can create such technology.

Enter CS + X, except I inverted it to X + CS. While this may be irrelevant from a maths perspective (commutative property of addition), it captures better my pitch of “what is a problem (X) that can be ameliorated with the addition of computer science (CS) ?” In other words:

X + CS = Δ X

Another outcome I wanted is to highlight the importance of understanding the problem as a premise for designing solutions….way before coding/programming comes into the picture. This gave birth to the focus question for the next project, i.e.

Is your software design worth developing?

When planning out the details of this project-based learning unit, I found the book “Setting the Standard for PBL” invaluable.  In particular, Figure 5.3 (pp  118-119) Project Design: Student Learning Guide (Sample) was incredibly helpful. In a nutshell, here were my steps:

  1. List the outcomes for assessment (based on planned Assessment Grid)
  2. Outline the syllabus content (based on planned Scope & Sequence)
  3. Define the Final Products and marking/weighting
  4. Identify instructional strategies

Here’s what I’ve got (PDF)

Here’s a student-friendly version

2016 11SDD Project2

I also created a Project Calendar which will be the basis of my students’ Gannt charts for their own projects.

From here, creating the Assessment notification was fairly straightforward with only the rubric for the Final Products left to define.

As luck would have it, I scored us free entry (thank you Google) into The Sunrise Alpha conference. It will feature successful Australian startup founders. I’m hoping this excursion on Monday will inspire my students to see that they too can be part of this.

I’m also negotiating to have mentors from UNSW School of IT. (I am very lucky!)

Finally, I got several staff members to be part of the panel to whom my students will pitch their ideas. The panel will judge whether or not the problem is worth solving and if the recommended solution is indeed viable and worth developing….fodder for next project 🙂

Of course, this is just the beginning of the story.

Tomorrow, we start in earnest. I’ve told my students about the project and we’ve already started brainstorming about ideas on problems to solve. This will have to be bedded down more when I they meet their teams…tomorrow.

Print Friendly