Dr. Judy's Newsletter 2016 (Fourth Quarter)

Memory Becomes Wisdom
When Constructed with the New Three R’s

Greetings Fellow Educators,

When you give students opportunities to learn how information and ideas are interrelated, their memories extend beyond isolated, “single-use” rote memory circuits. Their brains build durable, long-term, cross-brain neural networks of conceptual knowledge. They construct understanding and wisdom that is useable far beyond the classroom.
The neuroscience research regarding neuroplasticity and the construction of neuron-to-neuron communication networks offers guidance for helping students construct durable, concept memories when they experience
relationships, relevance, and response.
When you guide students to recognize relationships of new to prior knowledge, relate to the learning through personal relevance, and respond to learning as it is acquired, the experiences are truly brain changing.

Relationships are Memory Glue
Memories are stored in brain circuits based on relationships. In this way information repeatedly experienced together forms brain templates to which subsequent information with related patterns will bind. An example is the neural networks holding sounds related through rhyme or a concept network that starts with related experiences of balance such as playing on a seesaw or comparing weights on a balance scale. If well established and introduced as prior memory these balance memories link with future learning about balancing mathematical equations and they construct a balance-concept network.
To create these relational memory links with new learning, the brain needs to activate a prior memory circuit with a pattern related to some aspect of the new information. Prior knowledge preheating strategies include graphic organizers, comparison/contrast, analogies, acronyms, and sorting new information categories. Learning that links
the new to the known is the memory glue.
Even the timeworn “Three R’s” part of the title of this newsletter is designed to promote your relational new memory link. Seeing the familiar phrase activates your brain memory network “Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.” The new three R’s,
Relationships, Relevance, and Response, will link to that existing prior memory circuit

New short-term memory links are not sustained as permanent, long-term memory until they are repeatedly activated. This is the "practice makes permanent" aspect of neuroplasticity by which the neural networks repeatedly fired together, wire together (develop stronger connections). The resulting increase in connections (dendrites, synapses, and insulating myelin coating) establishes more durable neuron-to-neuron communication wiring and faster memory retrieval.
Relevance increases the pleasure of learning. When learning is linked to positive emotional experiences, it has a higher likelihood of being retained in long-term memory. That is why your students sustain their memories of learning you’ve helped them relate to their lives and interests.
Relevance is powerful throughout the stages of new learning. Start by guiding students to recognize how what they will be learning is personally relevant their interests and lives. Throughout the instruction, invite students to consider how they can use the knowledge to solve a relevant problem or how it would be useful in professions they find interesting. Tell students from the start how they will be using what they learn for a personally relevant task or goal.
Learning relevance builds more memorable concept knowledge when students know they will apply the learning to a task they feel has real value, such as preparing a lesson they will teach to younger students. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it.” Translating their learning into the simplified, but still accurate, form needed for the younger students requires them to have clear understanding. The mental manipulation as they construct understanding to translate learning into the new form will sustain interest and long-term concept memory.

Respond to learning
Responding to learning as it develops into memory results in further expansion of the relational network to which you helped students connect.
We all want students to learn beyond the factory model of knowing “
the” right answer to any question and “the” correct procedure for any situation. As facts, problems, career skillsets, and opportunities change so rapidly in this globalized information era, our students cannot be considered educated unless they are able to incorporate new knowledge as it becomes available, transfer learning to novel applications, solve problems creatively, and innovate beyond the “now.” That outcome is only possible if they have opportunities to develop understanding of the concepts of what they are taught and to use that knowledge in ways to incorporate and extend new learning to memory concept networks.
The rote memory circuits constructed by repetition are critical for foundational memory such as in building literacy and numeracy. However, these unwavering, automatically retrieved memory circuits will only be retrieved to the specific input cues by which they were memorized. That is important for automaticity, but will not create concept knowledge networks that are expandable and transferrable.
As we know from neuroplasticity research, practice or use of a brain circuit makes it stronger. However
, not all ways of learning and practice are equally influential in stimulating the neuroplastic growth of long-lasting and extended-use concept memories.
Road?? construction of cross-brain communication connections takes place as understanding is developed when learning is actively used. This is when isolated islands of rote memory connect into cross-brain networks of concept memory.
Examples of ongoing application of learning
as it is taking place include transfer tasks, inquiry, and project-based learning:
  • Students are given a page from a “new” Harry Potter book you put together with paragraphs you slightly alter from the original and from which you’ve removed all punctuation. As they proceed through a unit about punctuation rules, they get to make sense of the unpunctuated “new” paragraphs, by putting in punctuation. Students work independently then compare with partners. When they differ, they get to try to convince each other why their choices are most appropriate.
  • When students are learning percentages in math, invite them to use their family grocery bills as an investigation of taxation. How was the tax calculated? Can they estimate what percentage of the total bill the tax represents? Is it fair to have tax on some foods and not others? 
  • Tell students at the beginning how they will use each day’s learning that day.
    • o “Throughout this unit you’ll learn about electricity and magnetism and how they relate to each other. At the end of each class you’ll have time you work on your designs for an air born hovercraft engine using you accumulating knowledge.”
    • o “To limit the devastation of the Black Death, use your growing knowledge of biology to keep a running list of the interventions you would take back to the 14th century.”
    • o “To change history and understanding of world geography for the better, write on-going emails from you, Queen Isabella, to Christopher Columbus about your suggestions and concerns as you get daily reports of his explorations, discoveries, and interactions with the native people.”

Concept Memory Extends Far Beyond the Classroom
Concept understanding and transferable knowledge develops in a non-linear process over time. The insights from neuroscience research, when applied to learning, can help you energize and enliven your students’ memories. Guiding students to recognize relationships, personal relevance, and prior knowledge builds on the brain’s patterning storage system to connect the new to the known.
In addition, when students actively connect with the subject matter through on-going responsive application of learning as it is acquired, they achieved something far more valuable than rote recall. By using your students’ prior knowledge, related memory banks, interests and learning strengths you’ll guide their brains to construct durable, long-term, concept knowledge available for future application to new problems and creative innovations.

Keep igniting,

Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.
jwillisneuro@aol.com www.RADTeach.com

In the attached pages are links to my recent & most popular articles, webinars, videos, & staff blogs for Edutopia, NBC Education Nation, Psychology Today, and The Guardian.
More frequent Updated links to additional articles, blogs, videos, and webinars, as well as updates about where I’ll be doing presentations & workshops, can be found through my website: