Yes folks, as I have mentioned in my introduction, I have had a lot of past experience in formal educational settings, which is why I found our last week’s class, so very interesting. Listening to Dr Plumb discussing neuroscience in conjunction with some contemporary theories on learning as well as the 2 Ted talks we watched, started stirring up memories. My knowledge of brain anatomy and physiology (that I had thought had been long forgotten, since I had studied this material over ten years ago) started to come back to me. Clever and amusing lectures and anecdotes that I remembered about neuroscience and psychology started to pop up in my head. Words like Corpus Callosum and the names of the major gyri started to surface into my consciousness like a submarine emerging from the depths of the ocean.

So like Dr Sebastian Seung suggests maybe we can weed out or bring forth certain memories that are storied in the brain (Seung, 2010). He theorised, that if we discover a way to activate the first neurons in a chain of neurons that hold a specific memory: such as how to play a song on a piano we can stimulate that memory (Seung, 2010). Dr Seung proposes this occurs through the order of the activation of specific neural synapses (Seung, 2010). If we can understand the sequence of neuron activation, it is possible to potentially predict the pattern of neural activity, thus predicting a memory (Seung, 2010).

I started wondering to myself, on a more basic level, what other triggers can bring forth memory? If a teacher were able use these triggers would students be able to learn more efficiently?

From experience, one trigger that helped me learn was recopying my notes for an under grad anthropology class. I had had a 2 hour gap right after an anthropology lecture; since I had time on my hands, I ended up entertaining myself by going to the library and re-coping my notes by hand in order to make them legible to myself down the road . When exam time rolled around, I discovered that I had no need to even study this information as I could remember every lecture with the greatest of ease. So, I ask you? Is how we learn just as important as what we learn? What helped lock in the knowledge and made it simple for me to recall? Was it the physical act of me writing the lecture out word for word?  Studies highlighted in this Wall Street Journal article support that theory, the Scientist featured in the article proposes that the physical act of “handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key” (Bound, 2010).

She explains that her MRI images of the brain have shown that chronological finger movements used in printing and cursive had writing activated massive areas of the brain; “involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information” (Bound, 2010). Furthermore, one study of hers established that kids in grades two, four and six, kids “wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard” (Bound, 2010).

These last findings I found fascinating, as presently I have been hearing that daycares and elementary schools are now being flooded with computers, such as touch pads which required little to no manual dexterity or psychomotor skills. I can’t help but wonder if we are dampening future generations learning abilities with our computer technology?

Then again, perhaps it was the repetition of rereading my anthropology notes as I was copying them? Is studying a piece of information over and over again, similar to rising a dumbbell in a bicep curl? Is the brain another version of a muscle, that we can bulk it up with knowledge work-outs?

Eleanor Maguire from University College London believes so when she examined the brain, or more accurately; the hippocampus of London cabbies (Discover Magazine, 2011) In order to become a cabdriver in London, cabbies have to pass an extreme intellectual exam known as “The Knowledge” (Discover Magazine, 2011). Potential drivers must learn “25,000 of the capital’s arteries, veins and capillaries” as well as “20,000 landmarks – museums, police stations, theatres, clubs, and more – and 320 routes that connect everything up.” (Discover Magazine, 2011) The only map they can use in their verbal route exam is the one in their head (Discover Magazine, 2011). This ordeal results in their learning experience physically transforming the brain, the hippocampus in London’s cabdrivers becomes bigger than the average persons.

Some neuroscientist propose that in order to turn short term memory into long term memory, as in the case of the cabbies, the brain has to repeatedly be exposed the material (Cherry, 2013). If this is the case shouldn’t teachers be doing frequent short material review sessions with kids every week through their formal education years? Would those short review classes, like Ambrose suggest make the material that much more accessible when trying to recall it years later? (Ambrose,Bridges,Dipietro, Lovett & Norman,2010). Would these short reviews prevent knowledge from becoming lost, fragmented, distorted or permanently forgotten? Could something as simple and basic as frequent review sessions change formal education forever?

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  1. Allison… your blog discussion is intrigging to me. in your description of recopying your course notes and the resulting effect that you did not need to study these closer to exam spark of number of thoughts from my own experience.

    When my youngest daughter reflected on her struggles during her first term inn post-secondary studies, she made the comment to me ” The biggest thing I learnt this semster was “How to Study”. She discussed in great detail the process she engaged in that left her feeling confident that she was on the right track in understanding how she learned best. The theme that ran through her discussion centred around the act of rewriting her lecture notes. Four years later as she is completing her current studies she continues to rewrite her notes.

    I found your discussion of the impact of handwritten verses typing notes intreigginng…. how can that be. If this is the case, what impact is keyboarding verses writing words having on our capacity for learning.

    I had an interesting experience related to recalling my memories recently. My father was very much an adventuist and throughout his life recorded my experiences and those of his family and travels on slides and 8mm or super 8 film. Growing up we as a family spent much time watching these slides & film of us, our travels on a regular basis. however, after his death, none of us were comfortable with the equipment. My mother kept this vast collection of films |& slides with the intent that some day she would convert it to DVD. That never happens, so after my mother’s death 3 years ago, I collected up some 1500 reels of film and 5000+ mounted slides to have converted. On their return, I made copies for my 5 sibling, and began to watch and pour through the film & slides. An interesting experience occurred. When I first watch, there was a vagus sense that I knew some of the people in the images but not recall of who they were. On the second watch I began to find the people yet more familiar and with each subsequent viewing I began to recall very detailed memories of these people and or the situation. I was recalling memories that I had never accessed previously. The repeated exposure was impacting my ability to access the memories stored deep in my brain. It was fasinating!!
    What’s actually physical occurring in our brain when we learn is something I had never previously considered. Your discussion of the effect on London cabbies’ hippocampus is evidence of the physical changes that occur with learning. Very thought provoking!

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