Considerations and Memory

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I am a dedicated follower of the Brain Pickings newsletter of Maria Popova.  A recent piece discussed short- and long-term memory.  According to the piece, short-term memory consists of four so-called slave systems. Of interest to me and of relevance to this blog is the fourth slave: the episodic buffer.  This buffer “gathers all of the diverse information in from the other slaves, and maybe other information from elsewhere, and integrates them together into what might be described as a multimedia memory.” if you’ve read other posts to this blog or have discussed “considerations” with me, I trust you will hopefully see that this episodic buffer could also be termed short-term memory considerations. i of course am not a brain-function researcher. But I am a firm believer in the importance of “considerations” to effective, deeper learning. Again to me this is the development of long-term memory. Continuing this thinking, may I suggest a few items relating this transferring knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory:

  • The transfer is the conscious expansion of the considerations relative to the topic. Whereas short-term memory happens “on the fly” as events raise the topic, the transfer to long-term memory happens by design.  That is, the learner decides the importance and sets out to deliberately build long-term memory. To me this means identifying other information to integrate into the vision of the topic as I’ve chosen to call the outcome. In particular, this additional information should include contrasting viewpoints (e.g., if the initial short-term memory resulted from a cold-weather experience, then effort must be made to find comparable information related to the other seasonal weather experiences).
  • The transfer will improve when these additional sources enable the comparison of these viewpoints. Some outcomes will not vary with contrasting viewpoints, some will. Not only will the vision be more complete (helpful in subsequent use), I am convinced the vision will provide those “hooks” to provide recall from long-term memory.
  • it is important to remember that increasing the viewpoints will also help identify the “outliers” – those that don’t mesh with other viewpoints. The tendency is to immediately dismiss those viewpoints as flawed in some way, a distinct possibility. But it’s best, I suggest, to keep them included in the vision – identified as     appropriate. Subsequent discussion or application of the vision will provide input supporting the validity of the viewpoint or its classification as an outlier.
  • The considerations will enable that vision to reside in long-term memory. But now to what the late Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.” The vision demands regular assessment, starting with self-assessment of course: based upon additional viewpoints gathered as they are identified. But there is also a need for discussion with others. This discussion has many benefits: identification of inappropriate interpretations, of additional interpretations, and further reinforcement of those “hooks” to name just a few.
  • And of course, there is the ultimate reinforcement of and reason for developing this long-term memory: its application to address situations that make people’s lives better.  It’s reinforcement because not all applications will go as planned of course (maybe very few?) – more input to the refinement of the vision; and of course, this refinement emphasizes the hooks as well.

Summarizing then, there is apparently the most elementary levels of my “considerations” notion in short-term memory. However, it’s the conscious expansion of these considerations resulting in the vision, together with the assessing / refining of that vision through discussions with others and applications, that lead to valuable long-term memory. I trust this posting will prove of some value to you – in term of your understanding of short- and long-term memory. More importantly, possibly, this posting might provide input to the process / plan that I utilize when I “consider” a topic (memory) triggered by an article identified of value to me.

PLAYING, TINKERING, AND EFFECTIVE LEARNING

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Being a proud “Papa” (as my grand children call me), I’ve of course had many opportunities to both observe them, and at time engage with them in their PLAY. It is a fascinating observation, one many if not all of you have experienced as well.

Probably my favorite recollection is the time everyone had gathered on our porch one warm summer day. As they typically did, the five grandchildren (probably about five to nine years old at the time) were off on their playing for that day. After a while, they came over to me and said: “Come with us, Papa. We need your help!” We went to the patio nearby (with an unpaved surface typically used for unpaved driveways). The following scenario was provided: There was an older man trapped below the surface – who the grandkids were working to rescue. Using Grandma’s gardening tools, they had dug a 3-inch diameter hole about six inches deep. [Aside: When our daughters were the same age, the patio surface was completely off limits for disturbances of any kind – as they both reminded us often!] There problem was that while they could hear the man calling out, they could dig no deeper!!! Perfect opportunity for some informal learning … We explored the new material and determined it was clay (as I had remembered was put there when the patio was constructed). We talked about the differences between the materials and other uses for clay. Ruling out their requested use of shovels and picks, they decided to tell the man he’d have to wait for help (?) to arrive – and went off to some other scenario; I went back to the porch and the adults …

In my university classes, I very frequently suggested to my students that they “PLAY” with the notion(s) we were exploring together. I’d briefly explain that this was an informal exploration of those notion(s) – “having some fun with the learning.” Unless questions / concerns were raised (rarely happened unfortunately …), I moved the classroom efforts on; sadly, my suggestion was certainly forgotten I’m sure. While I do believe in use of class time in any course to introduce, discuss, and even practice the habits important to deeper, effective learning in ALL courses, I did not do the same for this “playing.” That would change in any future opportunities I might get.

When I learned of the efforts of Aaron Maurer – including his “Play & Tinkering” Google+ Community, my considerations of the use of PLAY in learning ramped up quickly! So, thinking about the activity of play for youngsters briefly outlined above, what are (OR should be) the features that should be translated from the playground to the classroom? Let me suggest seven that come to mind:

The classroom efforts will or should be less prescriptive. Play is very loosely controlled; the learning is very much student-centered.
The level of minimally acceptable outcomes of play in the classroom will or should be lower. The expectations are much less threatening. Improvement is sought, not completed outcomes.
While real-world questions are indeed important to motivated engagement, reduced real-world insistence for play (following playground – “man trapped …”) can be good: the “model” developed need only enable some contribution to understanding.
More hands-on activity will or should be involved in the classroom. After all, the playground activity is not discussion dominated. This type of activity is very motivating with regard to student engagement in the entire deeper, effective learning effort.
The classroom play will or should be team oriented. Sure, there are times on the playground probably when one or more children on the swings are keeping to themselves. But it’s the interactions that enhance the innovation and excitement.
Because of the looser, more informal play in the classroom, it will or should include effective, deeper learning more naturally. This outcome, likely happening without consciously knowing it is, enables the teacher to mentor / facilitate with far better results. This is so much better than a teacher-presented overview followed by assignments to practice effective, deeper learning.
Because of the informal, laid-back, student-centered nature of classroom play, there will or should be varying paths or plans followed in these classroom activities. Through informal or formal sharing of efforts made by each team, there is an increased likelihood of more students being motivated and learning.

So there are the seven features that I believe translate from playground to classroom. I’m sure there are others I’ve missed. Let me know your thoughts if you would. These and any others will be featured in any explicit attention to habits for lifelong, effective, deeper learning I have the opportunity to facilitate.