Sunday, July 24, 2005

Memory Tips & Tricks

Study Shows How Sleep Improves Memory

"A good night’s sleep triggers changes in the brain that help to improve memory, according to a new study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

New memories are formed within the brain when a person engages with information to be learned (for example, memorizing a list of words or mastering a piano concerto). However, these memories are initially quite vulnerable; in order to 'stick' they must be solidified and improved. This process of 'memory consolidation' occurs when connections between brain cells as well as between different brain regions are strengthened, and for many years was believed to develop merely as a passage of time. More recently, however, it has been demonstrated that time spent asleep also plays a key role in preserving memory."

(Furthermore, it's neat that I personally know Dr. Schlaug and Dr. Nadine Gaab from my time working at BIDMC)

Memorizing information, such as multiplication tables, to utilize processing speed for further study is one of the hardest tasks that my students have. Any tricks, such as improved sleep, for consolidating memory should be used to its fullest potential.

Over the past week, three of my students have begun memorizing their multiplication tables. One of my students, an eight years old girl, was dependent on using her fingers to count up. For example, 8 x 4 becomes, 8 (thumb), 16 (index finger), 24 (middle), and 32 (ring finger). In the past she was taught, or figured out, that this method worked and continued to use it. I explained that this method was much like sounding out caaaaaaaaaaaat, every time she read the word cat. She agreed as well.

We took a new approach. Sitting on her hands, so that she’d stop relying on her fingers, I had her go through six multiplication facts. One by one, she went through a fact, answered it and then I asked her to make up an extremely detailed picture to go with the fact. For example, 9 x 3 = 27 and she pictured all three numbers playing soccer (her favorite sport).

For fun, I wanted to see if I could remember all six cards on my own after a two day hiatus. Below is what I came up with:

3 x 9 = 27 ~ Playing soccer on a field.
8 x 3 = 24 ~ 8 & 3 are being chased by an octopus with 24 tentacles.
7 x 5 = 35 ~ 7 & 5 are playing underneath a tree. The branches and leaves make a 35.
6 x 7 = 42 ~ 6 & 7 are riding a racehorse with the number 42 on its side.
9 x 9 = 81 ~ 81 is a maid at the Super 9 hotel!
8 x 4 = 32 ~ 8 & 4 are being chased by a shark with 32 teeth.

Two days after our session, she was supposed to have practiced her six facts and add three more. At the next session, she performed beautifully having memorized all nine cards. I too had remembered all six cards correctly.

After working this technique with one student, I excitedly tried it again. This time, I was working with an eight years old boy, and he was able to memorize five cards. However, he preferred to make pictures that would rhyme with the answer. For example 8 x 8 = 64 was turned into the eights eating pizza in the kitchen while the 64 sat on the floor. I'll be looking at his retention tomorrow.

I've found that it helps to give the student control in how they decide to memorize their facts. As long as they are having fun & learning, that's what matters.



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