Saturday, August 30, 2014

Handwritten Notes Lead to Better Learning

In response to the trend to abolish teaching of cursive in schools, about a year ago I posted an article on what I thought were the developmental benefits of handwriting (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/why-writing-hand-could-make-you-smarter). That post has generated over 230 comments.

Now there is evidence that handwriting of lecture notes, compared to typing on a laptop, improves learning by college students. Following up on prior studies that indicated relative ineffectiveness of taking notes by laptop, researchers Pam Meuller and Daniel Oppenheimer provide clear evidence that handwritten note-taking produces better learning in college students.

They reported three experiments that compared the efficacy of college students taking notes by handwriting or with a lap top. Those who used handwritten notes that they studied later scored significantly higher than students using laptops, including fleet typists who took vastly more copious notes. Handwriters took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording. There are many possible explanations, beginning with the "less is more" idea in which too much information produces cognitive overload. Notably, when the typing students were told to avoid verbatim notes, they still did it. This suggests that there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing.  Handwritten notes involve more thought, re-framing, and re-organization, all of which promote better understanding and retention. The manual act of handwriting requires more engagement with the subject matter. Finally, handwritten notes capitalize on the use of drawings and of personalized spatial layout of the notes. Memorization involves not only what the information is, but where it is spatially located.

Added note: Readers interested in education are invited to join our Neuro-education group on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=4883556&trk=my_groups-tile-grp)



Mueller, P. A., and Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science. 23 April. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614524581. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/22/0956797614524581

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Memory Athlete Gimmicks for Memory Wimps. Tip 3: SVO

"Moon Walking with Einstein" is the title of a recent memory improvement book written by Joshua Foer, a reporter of memory championships. Foer became so entranced by watching astonishing memory feats in the contests that he decided to learn the secrets. After talking to memory athletes, he started practicing the techniques and within a few years became a memory champion himself.  You could do that too!

Memory athletes are those seeming freaks of nature who enter contests to see how fast they can memorize the sequence of four shuffled decks of cards or how long a string of digits they can memorize. But memory athletes are not freaks. They are ordinary people like Foer, you, and me who have learned some gimmicks that make possible the seemingly impossible.

Here, I will describe the simplest and easiest gimmick to use. I call it SVO, which stands for SUBJECT (or actor or agent), VERB, and OBJECT. This is the intuitive way we think with our language. Usually the subject is a person, which is why others call this technique POA for person, object, action). But animals or inanimate things can do things too. The trick is to visualize, using lots of imagination, an actor doing something relating to an object … as in moon walking with Einstein. Memorization is made easy because the images are so bizarre and vivid. 

I will illustrate the principles with Foer's method for memorizing the sequence of a deck of cards. He didn’t explain his method completely, deliberately I think, because he probably did not want to be “drummed out” of the elite memory athlete club to which he had been initiated. Not knowing his particular scheme, I will conjure an illustration of how all cards can be visualized. For example, the suits might be as follows:

·         Spades: Batman (black, darkness)
·         Clubs: Tiger Woods (re: golf clubs)
·         Diamonds: Diamond Jim Brady (diamond tie stud) or Za Za Gabor (who famously said, “Daaahling, always wear your diamonds, even to the grocery store. You never know who you will run into”).
·         Hearts: Somebody you love

Then, to associate the card number with the suit, you could use the number code, which is another tip that I will explain later. But as an illustration, the number four is coded as “rye,” which can be a picture of a field of grain or a bottle of rye whisky, whichever you prefer. Thus, for example, the four of clubs would be visualized as Tiger Woods (SUBJECT) teeing off (VERB) on a bottle or rye whisky (OBJECT), instead of a golf ball. What does one do with the face cards? They can be converted to numbers too, Jack = 11, Queen = 12, King = 13, Ace = 1 (Or 14; the number code for one is “tie” and you don’t want to get confused if you are using Diamond Jim Brady as your code for diamonds.

Finally, Foer did mention that he clusters three sequential cards into one image, so that he only has to memorize 17 items, with one item left over, instead of 52.

Well most of us aren’t going to enter memory contests or card-count in Vegas (they catch on to you pretty quick). So, how do we apply this to everyday life? You could use this SOV approach to play a better game of bridge. But many events in daily life are better remembered this way.

First, a simple illustration:

·         Capital of Arkansas (Little Rock): most people know Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Visualize Clinton (SUBJECT) throwing (VERB) a little rock (OBJECT) at Noah's ark (…ansas)

Now, here is a more complex example where you can string together multiple items to be remembered:

·        Harvey’s discovery of the circulatory system: Everybody knows that the heart is key, because it pumps blood. See the heart (SUBJECT) as pumping (VERB) blood (OBJECT) out on to the main traffic artery, like a freeway. Imagine you as an image of Harvey (like Harvey the rabbit in the movie) riding in a boat in the blood river. See the boat slow down and start to back up as it leaves on the off ramp. Maybe you want think of the boat going through a hole (“ole” for arteriole) to get to the off ramp. Then see the boat stop at the stop light (covered with baseball caps … capillary). Then, on green the boat goes back up on the access road (because Harvey had gotten off too soon, in vain (vein). This schema also helps as a metaphor for associating function at the various locations.

While all this seems bizarre, it works with great power. Facts and concepts memorized this way are robustly encoded and readily consolidated into lasting memory because humans are visual animals. We have far more brain area devoted to vision than we do any other sense.
Another way to make the point is with the age-old phenomenon of fairy tales. Fairy tales often carry a moral that we want our children to remember. A few fairy tales are even for adults, with the political protest embedded as a metaphor. In any case, a fairy tale is easy to remember because it is visually vivid, with people acting on or with things.

SVO is perhaps the most flexible memory device. Use it for simple memory tasks or for truly demanding memory challenges.


The publisher of Dr. Klemm's "Memory Power 101" book has now made it available as an audio book at Amazon. Also, you can read multiple reviews at http://03908f9.netsolhost.com/thinkbrain/book-reviews-of-memory-power-101/ 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Educational Reform. Why It Is Not Working.

The chart below is telling: SAT scores have been flat for over 40 years while education spending has increased 140%. Though this is Texas, I have seen similar data for other states.


 At the national level, federal government educational spending has skyrocketed, with no comparable improvement in educational outcomes.


 Clearly, the data debunk the supposition that more money is needed to fix education. What about changing standards and curricula? What have we got to show for all the reforms in the last 40 years such as Head Start, New Math, Nation at Risk, Goals 2000, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, charter schools, Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core?

Could it be that we are trying to apply right answers to the wrong problems? If money, revised standards and curricula, and high-stakes testing are not the real problems, what is?

I think the real problem is that students generally lack learning competencies. Amazingly, schools tell students more about what to learn than how to learn. I think that such schooling has it backwards. In my view, the main goal of school should be to motivate students to learn and to teach them how to do it. Good schooling also ought to cultivate good academic taste, that is, the ability to distinguish principle from fact, useful information from trivia, logical analysis from specious argumentation, and intellectual excellence from superstition, myth, and falsehood. With that accomplished most everything else will fall into place.

What do I mean by "learning competencies?" In this post, I will just identify the competencies needed for effective learning as follows:

Organization
Understanding
Synthesis
Memory
Application
Creativity

In a follow-on post, I will explain what I think teachers can do to promote student development of these learning competencies. The corollary is that Colleges of Education need to be doing more research on these competencies and provide more instruction to pre-service teachers on how to teach learning competencies. In short, what is the smart way to address the real problem in education?



Dr. Klemm has a new book, Mental Biology, The New Science of How Brain and Mind Relate. See review: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/mental-biology-klemm

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Naps and learning competencies

I have written before about research that clearly demonstrates improved learning after sleep. Sleep promotes the "consolidation" of recently acquired short-term memories into more permanent memories.  Impaired consolidation is a major problem in teaching and learning. Teachers often have to repeat the same instruction again and again, and yet many children still do not perform well on high-stakes tests. Anything teachers can do to improve retention of instruction would be useful, and that includes making school children aware that they probably need to get more sleep. The well-known change in sleep cycles during adolescence makes a strong case for starting school later in the morning. But another issue is whether or not naps during the school day would improve learning.

A recent study in Brazilian schools has addressed this question by having 371 6th graders take a nap after receiving a 15-minute lecture on intentionally novel information that was not relevant to the normal curriculum. Students were then given a surprise multiple-choice test on this content at three different times after the lecture: 1, 2, and 5 days after the lecture.  Scores were compared with that of a pre-test on this material before the lecture.

Students were divided into a nap group, in which students were given sleep masks and encouraged to try to sleep, lying down on mats in a quiet room. The other group went to a regular class by their usual teacher after the lecture.

Not surprisingly, both groups showed improved scores (12% gain) when tested the next day. However, this gain disappeared by five days in the non-nap group, whereas essentially no decline in test scores was evident at testing two or five days later. Teachers would not be surprised that students soon forgot what they are taught. In this situation, the preserved memory in the nap group was especially impressive, given that the study was designed to impair learning in both nap and non-nap groups in four ways:

1.      Students were not allowed to take notes.
2.      Students were not encouraged to remember this information.
3.      The lecture topic was not relevant to the curriculum.
4.      Students did not know they were going to be tested.

If these constraints on learning had not been present, I suspect that the nap effect would have been much larger. Moreover, there was no objective measure of how much actual sleep each student had. Many might have just been resting. Data were not tracked by individual student, but rather averaged over the whole group. Finally, multiple-choice tests were used, and these only test recognition memory. If naps do improve memory, a larger nap effect might be seen with tests that call for students to generate a remembered answer, as in short answer or fill-in-the blanks tests.

While theory and experiments such as this suggest that napping could help student learning, there are of course practical constraints. Time spent napping is time that content cannot be presented.

My experience as an educational consultant in schools is that schools seem to conspire to make learning difficult. First, students are constantly over-stimulated and distracted, not only by social interactions, but by posters, pictures, and do-dads placed conspicuously all over the rooms and in the halls. Many teachers allow students to multi-task, for example, using cell and smart phones in class. Classes are commonly disturbed by loud public-speaker announcements from the principal's office and by loud bells signaling the end of class. Immediately after class, no quiet time is allowed for reflection on what happened in class. Students actually start tuning out about five minutes before the anticipated bell ring, and the bell causes them to leap up, run out into the halls, and start socializing. Then, of course, there is the emphasis on all manner of extracurricular activities that occupy the minds of many students much more than curriculum. It's a wonder students learn anything.

Finally, few if any teachers teach students how to learn. The emphasis is on what to learn and on performing well on state-mandated test scores. I have started to give teacher workshops to help teachers realize the importance of developing learning competence in their students. If students had better learning skills, the job of teaching would be much easier and student test performance would improve automatically.

Source:

Lemos, N. et al. (2014). Naps in school can enhance the duration of declarative memories learned by adolescents. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. Vol. 8, article 103. Doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00103



Dr. Klemm is author of two books on learning and memory, Memory Power 101 and Better Grades, Less Effort.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Health Benefits of Resveratrol: New Plaudits

Joe: My doctor told me to give up drinking, smoking, and fatty foods.
Sam: What will you do?
Joe: I think I’ll give up my doctor.

I try not to get too excited about memory benefits of supplements, because too often the claims are not substantiated by studies that are well controlled and peer reviewed. I now think resveratrol may be one of the few supplements that benefits brain function.

When I wrote my first blog on research on resveratrol benefits for brain function and memory, there were over 2,000 scientific papers.[1] Don't worry; I am only going to tell you about a few studies.

Resveratrol is an active ingredient in red wine. This compound has been credited for explaining why red-wine drinkers in France, who drink more wine than most people, are healthier than would be predicted by their lifestyle of little exercise and eating lots of cheese. The problem is most studies suggest you would have to drink a 100 or more glasses of red wine a day to get much resveratrol effect (and that effect would obviously be negated by a toxic dose of alcohol). An obviously more healthful choice is the highly concentrated pill forms of resveratrol that are now on the market.

Most of the protective biological actions associated with resveratrol have been associated with its scavenger properties for free radicals and the protective effects that it confers on the heart and diabetes. 

One important study comes from a diabetes research group in Brazil recently who reported a beneficial effect of resveratrol on diabetic rats.[2] Resveratrol (in a modest rat dose of 10 and 20 mg per kilogram per day for 30 days) prevented the impairment of memory induced by diabetes. An earlier study by another group showed resveratrol improved glucose metabolism and promoted longevity in diabetic mice.

Another benefit of resveratrol is the anti-oxidant property. The brain produces more free-radical damage than other organs, and compared with other organs the brain has especially low levels of antioxidant defense enzymes. 

One recent study has revealed resveratrol had protective effects against brain damage caused by a chemical that kills acetylcholine neurons. Injection of this toxin into the brain of rats impaired their memory performance in two kinds of maze tasks. The impairment was significantly reduced by repeated injection of resveratrol (10 and 20 mg/kg) per day for 25 days, beginning four days before the toxin injection.[3]

Another recent study examined effects on working memory in mice fed a resveratrol-supplemented diet for four weeks before being injected with a cytokine to induce inflammation and accelerate aging. Resveratrol significantly reduced memory impairment in the aged group, but not in the young adults[4]. The lack of benefit in young adults was a little misleading, in that there was a "ceiling effect" in that the young adults were not impaired by the cytokine injection.

 The practical issue for us is whether resveratrol will help cognitive function in humans, especially healthy humans. It seems likely because other substances that have strong anti-oxidant properties seem to improve memory capability. Because animal studies have shown promise for resveratrol in preventing or treatment several different conditions associated with aging, several human clinical trials have been initiated.[5]

 An impressive new study of older humans, male and female, has just been reported.[6] Twenty-three healthy, but overweight people completed 6 months of daily resveratrol intake (200 mg ― the commercial brand I take has 300 mg/capsule). A paired control group got placebo pills. A double-blind design assured that neither the subjects nor the experimenters knew which individuals were in each group during data processing.

Memory tests of word recall revealed significant improvement in the resveratrol group. Resveratrol also increased brain-scan measures of functional connectivity, which identified  linked neural activity between the hippocampus and several areas of cerebral cortex.

Because others had shown that resveratrol increased insulin sensitivity in humans, these authors examine several markers important to diabetes. Resveratrol decreased the standing levels of sugar-bound hemoglobin, a standard marker for glucose control.  

What foods besides red grapes have resveratrol? The most likely other sources you would eat or drink are blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts. It is not likely that you could drink or eat enough of such substances to get enough resveratrol to do much good. Because of the scientifically documented benefits of resveratrol, highly concentrated supplements are now on the market (I have been taking it for a couple of years) I haven't given up my two glasses of red wine each day, but I have started taking one of the supplements. I haven't seen any reports that high doses of resveratrol are toxic.



[2] Schmatz R, et al. (2009). Resveratrol prevents memory deficits and the increase in acetylcholinesterase activity in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Eur J Pharmacol. 2009 May 21;610(1-3):42-8. Epub 2009 Mar 19.
[3] Kumar, A. et al. 2007. Neuroprotective effects of resveratrol against intracerebroventricular colchicine-induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in rats. Pharmacology.79 (1): 17-26. DOI: 10.1159/000097511
[4] Abraham, J., and Johnson, R. W. 2009. Consuming a diet supplemented with resveratrol reduced infection-related neuroinflammation and deficits in working memory in aged mice. Rejuvenation research. 12 (6): 445-453.  DOI: 10.1089/rej.2009.0888
[5] Smoliga, J. M. et al. (2011). Resveratrol and health – a comprehensive review of human clinical trials. Mol. Nutrition Food Res. 55: 1129-1141
[6] Witte, A. V., et al. (2014) Effects of resveratrol on memory performance, hippocampal functional connectivity, and glucose metabolism in healthy older adults. J. Neuroscience. 34 23): 7862-7870.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Memory Athlete Gimmicks. TIP 2: Composite Flash Card

Teaching, learning, and remembering don’t have to be complicated. In my previous Memory Athlete" Tip #1, I described a strategy based on linking mental images to particular locations in a familiar environment, such as one's home or yard. Here, Tip 2 describes my invention of a simple flash-card process that can help accomplish all three educational processes in a computer slide-show file consisting of only one slide. This one-screen file can serve as a single composite “flash-card” reservoir of information from which information can be organized and modified, saved for on- or off-line study, and always available for self-testing (in principle, as is done with conventional flash cards). Conventional flash cards are typically limited to factoids, with a word on one side and definition on the other. But composite flash cards are fundamentally different because they provide a way to capture and learn whole cohesively organized concepts as well as factoids.

Moreover, the new type of card captures many well-established principles of effective learning and memory (Klemm, 2012, 2013). Unlike the common teacher-centric mode that stresses presentation and explanation, this new system incorporates the student-centered need to encode and remember presented information, all in the same visual and conceptual space.

The principle, as in Tip #1 is also based on the idea that remembering what the information is depends largely on where it is. Here, mental images are pinned to specific spots in a table in PowerPoint and animated so that you can browse through the items in proper sequence, one at a time.

The entire process is illustrated with nine key memory-improvement concepts in a single PowerPoint slide that serves as a “home page” (Fig. 1). The memory-improvement concepts, represented by clip-art icons in sequential left-to-right, top-to-bottom order are: 1) enhance motivation, 2) allocate learning time wisely, 3) organize learning material, 4) make nets of association, 5) don’t overload working memory, 6) reduce memory interference, 7) don’t multi-task, 8) think about what is to be memorized, and 9) self-test. Readers can get construction details and download this actual slide show from a link at http://03908f9.netsolhost.com/thinkbrain/educational-consultant/ (scroll down to the bottom until you see "Klemm cards").



Fig. 1. Edit view of a PowerPoint slide containing basic information about nine key concepts of effective learning and memory. In slide-show play mode, the objects (icon and associated text block) are coded for animation, so that each icon and associated bullet list appear in turn upon a mouse click. The opening screen in show mode will ordinarily be blank or contain the very first icon at upper left. Icons can have hyperlinks to other sources of information. Mouse click on an icon links to an enlarged corresponding bullet slide and its hyperlinks.



To illustrate the reasoning in Fig. 1, the mental image of the first icon conveys the self-evident idea that the fellow without a parachute is highly motivated to “hang in there.” To mentally link the bullet points, a learner could visualize him praying he doesn’t slip loose, helping him to “believe he can hang on.” Then imagine him clutching more desperately than he needs to, just to “fight boredom.” Then when he lands safely, he can be visualized as celebrating by playing his “A game” in basketball. As another example, the second icon of an alarm clock conveys the idea of managing time. Imagine seeing the clock set 10 minutes before the hour (“10 minute rule’). Then picture multiples of such a clock (“reserve lots of time”), each appearing as fast as possible (“don’t procrastinate”). Space the clocks apart (“space learning”). Silly, yes, but that is what makes such imaging memorable.

The spatial organization of the icons makes it easy to remember them and even their sequence. During recall required by self-testing or examinations, remembering the images automatically brings up the associated bullet-point ideas. To accelerate the speed at which icons can be memorized, a learner can think of associational links between icons. For example in Fig. 1, after seeing the motivation icon, an association can be made with the next icon (clock) by imagining that the parachuting people are looking at a clock to time how long it will be before they hit the ground.

Options for Use


Organizing and Presenting Information. The instruction mode is shown on the right side of Fig. 2. Cards can be created by a teacher, as the basis of a lecture, or by a student, who constructs it from lecture and/or assigned learning resources. Icons can be used as hyperlinks to separate slides that contain bullet points, text, or diagrams. Animating the objects allows them to be displayed one at a time.



Figure 2. Logic flow diagram for use of the flash card in two different modes: on the left for a single flash-card study and self-test and on the right for expanded organization or presentation of learning material. A slide show developed as shown on the right can still be used for self-test from the single flash card “home.”

A student or teacher could play the complete slide show, or whatever portion is desired at a particular time, by mouse clicking through the icons and their bullet lists, and launch into the detail slides by clicking on the ICON (as opposed to blank space); each detail slide has links on it to return back either to the bullet list or to the “home” flash card. A link is not needed to go to the next detail slide is not needed, as each slide in that path appears on a mouse click on open space. Obviously, this same home card can be played for self-testing via the flash-card mode process on the left of Fig. 2.

Before clicking, the teacher may want to ask the class what they think or know about the role of motivation in learning. During or after explaining the bullet points, the teacher may wish to pause before the next click to answer questions, orchestrate class discussion, launch a traditional slide show, show a video clip, conduct a demonstration, conduct a hands-on activity, or whatever. In an on-line tutorial, a hyper-linked audio file could provide the instruction.

When all items in the home page are displayed, students see a grand overview of the content, and, as with matrix notes, it should be easy to discern cross-cutting relationships among the ideas. In Fig. 1, for example, students might discern that organizing the material requires thinking hard about meaning and relationships or that multi-tasking creates interference effects.

Teachers can spread the instruction across multiple class periods from the same card (after class one, for example, she would resume in class two where she left off last in the flash card and repeat with each later class. Since each subsequent class period brings up the original card, teachers can click on previously displayed objects as a review. In an on-online environment, students can self-pace as they work their way through the card’s information.

The teacher may want to tell students in advance to take notes as each icon is presented. After the lecture, the computer file (the single flash card) can be e-mailed to students, and they can modify the bullet points on the basis of the notes they took in class. Alternatively, if students have computers in class, they can load their copy of the slide show and make notes directly in their copy. Once in their possession, students can customize the file and use it again and again for study and self-testing (see below). A whole semester could be taught this way, with each lecture based on its own single card.

Flash Card Self-study and Testing. Cards can be designed simply for study and self-testing (left side of Fig. 2). Extra slides to expand on a given icon’s mnemonic representation are added at will, and links to them can be created from any icon to an expanded bullet list, which in turn has hyperlinks to any number of extra slides on that topic.

The same approach can be used by students to construct their own flash cards from textbooks, videos, websites, or other information sources. This might be an improved way to document Web quests.

With a composite card constructed with each icon and text box tagged for animation, the learner simple clicks through one item at a time. Thus, the composite card serves as a study and self-test tool wherein the learner tries to memorize the icons and the ideas they represent. True self-testing is easily done when the learner anticipates what should appear upon mouse click and then adjusts recollection to correct any memory errors.

Students can study a card file in edit mode, which allows the student to see, all in one place, both the “big picture” and the fine detail of the information presented in lecture or gleaned from other sources. One typical problem in education is that academic content is dumped on students as an overwhelming mass that obscures perspective and context. Students can easily feel like a rat lost in a maze. But if they could look at the maze from the top view, they would easily see how to navigate it. When students can see and think about the total display of information on the home page screen, they may find it easier to see cross-cutting relationships. Different icons can be substituted and re-arranged (first “group” the icon and its text box) if needed to enhance the inherent meaning for a particular student. The student can even add cells to the table and insert new material and links that were not included in the original information presentation.

Perceived Benefits


The advantages of this system would seem to include the following features:

·         Comprehensive. All manner of information can be packaged into a single card. Intervals between mouse clicks can be used for other modes of information presentation, discussion, and learning activities.
·         Compact. Everything is all in one place, viewable as a holistic display, yet the user can drill down via the card’s hyperlinks to extensive detail within the slide show.
·         Flexible/extensible. Cards can be constructed for presentation of information from any source: lecture, books, websites, or whatever. A given card can be modified at any point in time, by either the teacher or the student. Information content can be expanded simply by adding new table cells. Major topics can have their own separate and independent cards. Teachers can readily adapt the system for on-line or in-class teaching.
·         Organized cohesively. Ideas are organized as topics, and subtopic ideas are shown as associated bullet points. Sequential order is preserved (left to right, top to bottom). When the user drills down to a detailed bullet point slide, “return” hyperlinks quickly lead back to the home page.
·         Studied quickly. Students can view everything at once and zoom in on parts that need further thought or rehearsal. Students can modify any part of the slide as needed during the study process.
·         Self-tested in flash-card style. Students can anticipate what should appear upon the next click and check to see if they had it correct. Any needed modifications are quickly made on the fly during self-testing. This design discourages students from glossing over the memorization process by “looking over” material without really forcing a self-generated answer.
·         Embodied key memorization principles. This one approach captures a wide range of generally accepted principles that facilitate memory. Students and teachers are enabled and encouraged to:
·         Condense content is to essentials (“less is more”―Süss et al. 2002; Norretranders, 1998).  Memory capacity is limited and easily overwhelmed by too much information. Moreover, memorization is facilitated by excluding information that one already knows or can figure out.
·         Organize material by arranging like items in the same row or order a sequence in which rows are read left-to-right, top-to-bottom.
·         Chunk items in small groups by putting like items on the same row of the table.
·         Represent ideas with images, which are far easier to memorize than words (Rigney and Lutz (1976).
·         Create a spatial organization that itself facilitates memorization (Vaughn, 2007; Sparrow et al. 2012). Composite flash cards are a form of “method of loci,” an ancient technique that works because where information is provides important cues for what information is. Such cues help in both forming and recalling memory. Because only a few images are on a given row, it is a trivial task to remember the three or four images on a given row. To create location “pegs” for images on each row, users could use the classical number coding system (Klemm, 2011), in which row one would be indexed by an image of “tie” (as in neckties), row two by “Noah” (as in the Ark), row three by “ma,” (as in mother), and so on. Thus, for example, in row one a user can visualize a necktie wrapping around the several images on that row. A user could also make a visual story line that begins with a tie linked to an image of the first item on the row, which in turn is lined to the second item, and so on.
·        Capitalize on the convenience of having all memory processes (encoding, consolidation, retrieval) operate in the same visual format and space in which information is presented. This composite card structure is akin to matrix note taking, which offers the added advantage of making it easier to see cross-cutting relationships that may go undetected in other forms of note taking (Kiewra et al. 1991). The holistic display of all information makes it easy to perceive any one item in the same context, while at the same time making it possible to see two or more items in a new context.
·        Learners can self-pace study and review. Learners can easily self-test frequently and do so in a much more powerful way than the common approach of just “looking over” the material. True self-testing is apparently under-utilized by the typical student (Pyc and Rawson, 2010; Karpicke and Roedinger (2008).
·         The process of creating a composite card is engaging. Learners simply must think about the material to decide what goes where, what images are most useful, and what are the minimally useful number of key words.  In my 50 years of learning and teaching, I have become convinced that thinking about learning material is the best way to memorize it.
·         Easily constructed and modified. Anyone who knows how to use presentation software like PowerPoint can easily make, modify, and navigate the information content.

References


Foer, Joshua. (2011). Moonwalking with Einstein, New York: Penguin.

Karpicke, Jeffrey D., and Roedinger, Henry L. III. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Science. 319, 966–968.

Kiewra, Kenneth A.; DuBois, Nelson F.; Christian, David; McShane, Anne; Meyerhoffer, Michelle; Roskelley, David (1991). Note-taking functions and techniques. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(2), 240-245. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.83.2.240

Klemm, W. R. (2012). Memory Power 101. New York: Skyhorse.

Klemm, W. R (2013). Better grades. Less effort. On-line e-book. Bryan, TX: Benecton Press.

Norretranders, T. (1998). The user ilusion. Cutting cnsciousness down to size. New York: Viking Penguin.
Pyc, Mary A., and Rawson, K. A. (2010). Why testing improves memory: mediator effectiveness hypothesis. Science, 330: 335.
Rigney, J. W., and Lutz, K. A. (1976). Effect of graphic analogies of concepts in chemistry on learning and attitudes. J. Educ. Psychology. 68, 305–311.
Sparrow, B., Liu, J., and Wegner, D. M. (2012). Google effects on memory: cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science. 333, 776-778.

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Vaughn, Dean. (2007). How to remember anything. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Jazz Changes the Brain

To follow up my prior post on jazz, I just read a scientific report published last week that suggests that training of musical creativity in jazz causes long-lasting changes in brain function. In this study, musicians completed a questionnaire that allowed researchers to know the extent of each subject's prior classical and jazz training. Functional MRI brain scans were taken with subjects lying down on their back with a piano keyboard on their lap, playing improvisations with their right hand. Ear phones allowed players to hear their improvisations.

Brain scan showed distinct activity differences in the jazz musicians and that difference was greater in those with longer jazz histories. Past improvisation experience increased the functional bilateral connectivity of the dorsal premotor cortex, the pre-supplemental motor areas of cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortices. Decreased activity connectivity was noted in executive control frontal-parietal areas. Thus, it would seem that creativity training, in jazz at least, changes the brain at a network level. Presumably, these connectivity changes were created by past histories in learning jazz and no doubt facilitated improvisation by automating some of the neural functions needed to perform it.

How do we interpret the decreased activity in executive-control areas of cortex? Multiple other brain-scan studies in other contexts have indicated that as a brain becomes proficient in a certain task, apparently less neural tissue is needed to perform the task. Decreased activity can therefore indicate task mastery.
Scientists have known for a decade or more that learning and memory in general change both brain anatomy and function. Such changes are typically linked to the neural requirements for performing specific kinds of tasks. This study of classical and jazz musicians follows on prior studies showing that musical training does change the brain. For example, violin players have enhanced neural activity in the motor cortex controlling hand movements. The relative size of the left and right motor cortex differs between piano and string players.

The importance of this present study is that it demonstrates that the brain change depends on the kind of musical training and appears to be selective for improvisation. Moreover, musical improvisational training affects more than just control over movements and extends to cognitive functions needed to improvise. Improvisation is a creative act that apparently recruits cortical circuits to support it and in the process rewires the brain to facilitate improvisation.

Improvisation relies heavily on memory of previously learned musical patterns and implementation strategies. Jazz players call this "musical vocabulary." Thus, jazz players have to become musicians first, then learn how to improvise. Because memory is a "process in a population, not a thing in a place," neural representation of musical vocabulary is probably widely distributed, and the brain must learn how to recruit connections from multiple brain areas and integrate them in real time in the prefrontal and movement-control parts of the brain, which apparently generate creative ideas and implement them.


Source:

Pinho, A. L. et al. (2014) Connecting to create: expertise in musical improvisation is associated with increased functional connectivity between premotor and prefrontal areas. J. Neuroscience. 34 (18): 6156-6163. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4769.13-2014.

                         Memory Medic has a new book being distributed by Random House: 
                         Mental Biology. The New Science of How the Brain and Mind Relate.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

What Jazz Can Do for Your Brain and Memory

I just got back from my second trip to the Katy Jazz festival, run by a school district just West of Houston. It was time for a jazz fix. You see, I am a jazz fan, and though not compulsive, I do need to dash occasionally to New Orleans or go to a festival like the one in Katy.

How does one become a jazz fan, particularly somebody like me who doesn't know much about music and who can't stand 200-year-old church music or the new mind-numbing songs in so many "contemporary" services. For Texas students who live in enlightened districts like Katy ISD, jazz appreciation starts as early as middle school in the larger schools that spin off jazz training from their marching and concert bands.

My fanhood began in the summer when I turned 19. After finishing my freshman year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, a fraternity brother talked me into spending the summer in Hollywood, where his family had moved. He steered me around all the clubs and concert venues, and I saw in person jazz icons like Stan Kenton, Cab Calloway, Gerry Mulligan, Louie Belson, Chet Baker, Shelley Mann, and Shorty Rogers. My buddy and I would even spend a whole evening listening to Dave Brubeck and Joe Morello for the price of one beer, which we managed to take three hours to milk.

At first, I thought what I was hearing was just unstructured noise. My buddy explained what was going on, usually opening with the tune's melody line, then improvising on that melody line, and then gracefully finding the way back home to the tune's opening statement. And I didn't need to know musical details to appreciate the rhythms that flowed through my body like honey on a warm biscuit.

I am since learning a lot at the Katy festival where some 12 schools showed off their jazz bands and subsumed combos. The festival also featured sets from eight professional combos. But the really important part is that the student groups are given critiques by professional musicians, many of whom are or have been college music professors. The critiques are miked so the audience can hear. From such instruction I am learning that really big things are happening in the brain's mental biology as one listens to or plays jazz.

First the listening: the most obvious effect is stress reduction. Stress, as I have explained in early posts, is the arch-enemy of memory ability. In my case, I put my West Coast jazz experience to good use in mastering the veterinary curriculum at Auburn. While classmates were beating their brains up trying to learn all the stuff involved in veterinary medicine (more than in human medicine), I spent a lot of my time listening to jazz records. And I still beat all but four classmates in grades.

Listening is also fun, probably less so than playing jazz, but still a lot of fun. In San Antonio, Jim Cullum's band used to be called the "Happy Jazz Band." Think about where jazz came from. It is uniquely an American innovation, beginning as emotional relief for slaves who found comfort in the blues, which eventually spawned jazz in its happier forms. Wholesome fun promotes happiness. Happy brains learn better. They can also often live longer (remember my blog on the long life span of so many stand-up comedians). Think about Preservation Hall in New Orleans. There and elsewhere around the country, many jazz artists are still performing sophisticated music in their 80s.


 As for mental biology, a jazz player experiences enormous mental stimulation, Even as a listener, after a concert my untrained brain churns out a continuous stream of improvisation in my mind's ear that can include multiple instruments that I have no idea how to play. A player has to engage the brain in multiple ways that classical musicians do not. First, there are added technical requirements, such as playing blue notes, swinging eighth notes, and unusual time signatures like 12/8 and 5/4 or complex African or Latin rhythms.  Then there is the huge challenge of improvisation, which is basically composing on the fly. When improvising, there is a safety net of knowing the proper chord structure and melody, but players have to have a huge musical vocabulary and realize in milliseconds what new notes will fit. They also have to listen hard so they can interact properly with what others in the band are playing. The "call and response" paradigm in jazz is actually musical conversation. I can't think of anything more mentally demanding, especially for youngsters in early stages of learning music. Early middle school is a particularly time-sensitive period for mental development, and I suspect that middle school jazz bands can have disproportionate beneficial effects on brain development.

Learning jazz may be the ultimate in training young minds to think critically and creatively. An earlier blog post after my fist trip to the Katy festival focused on the exceptional teaching skills of jazz band directors. Many teachers protested, saying in essence that anybody can teach good students. Regular teachers get stuck with so many underachievers. Maybe we should consider the possibility that jazz-band students are such high achievers because their jazz training has trained their brains in invaluable learning capacities for hand-eye coordination, the ability to memorize, discipline, patience, critical and creative thinking, high-speed intellectual engagement with the ideas of others, and self-actualization and confidence.


There is overwhelming scientific evidence that mental challenge develops new connections in the brain and with it, new biological capabilities. In jazz, such mental enrichment enhances the ability to memorize, not only directly in terms of having to learn a large musical vocabulary and the rules of jazz, but also in terms of basic mental biology. My new book, Mental Biology, explains some of the basic ideas.