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March 18

Gail Brown

Our brains and memory – introducing links to instruction, Part 2

  • Mon 7th Jan 2013
  • Gail

Last post, I introduced the book, Diving for Seahorses, and starting you thinking about the difference between computers retaining information, and our brains remembering?

In the foreward to this wonderful book, Sean Kean discusses the “Ship of Theseus”, which the people of Athens wanted to keep as a memorial. Theseus was their ancient Greek hero who slayed the Minotaur, a monster that lived in a labyrinth.

Over the years, this ship started to “weather”, and caretakers were asked to replace any boards that were not safe. So, board by board, and plank by plank, caretakers kept the boat safe and looking great. Over hundreds of years, and generations of caretakers, this entire boat has been replaced.

The question Sean asks is “is it still the same ship now that it was in the beginning?”(page ix). He then asks whether this is the same for our bodies, as we continually replace cells in our bodies, like skin cells, blood cells, and liver cells to name a few. GREAT QUESTION!

I’m raising this because it’s a great example linked to memories in our brains. Each person is still the same, even though they’re replacing small parts of their body, and each of us remembers a memory slightly differently each time we recall a memory of one thing, concept or event.

Think about this, in terms of the content you teach in the classroom – with 30 different brains taking in that information, forming memories in each brain. Each student’s memory of that fact, that thinking, that strategy – it’s slightly different.

As teachers, we need to take this on board – it makes sense – BUT it doesn’t mean that we all learn differently. Most of us learn in a similar way, with small differences. If we want our students to learn, then we need a consistent, clear communication of exactly what we want them to learn.

We need sufficient evidence that our students have learned this, over time – multiple pieces of evidence that demonstrate students’ learning AND we need our students to embrace and enjoy lots of deliberate practice (10,000 hours, like our 10,000 steps) so that what is learned becomes part of their long term memories. Like riding a bike, you still remember that, right? And how long since you've done it???

Consider this, as your school week continues, and how this might impact on what you teach? How you present new concepts and strategies, and what your students will do to demonstrate what they have learned! We teach so many ideas, concepts and strategies every day, and every week… Consider what’s MOST important, and the amount of practice that’s needed to make sure that sticks!

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