February 1

The Role of Memory In Learning


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MemoryHow do kids learn a new, and often difficult, subject like science? Rather than rely on rote memory such is often utilized in a public school classroom, it's important to realize how memory plays a role in the overall process of learning and use this knowledge to make learning easier.

Categorizing Information Aids Memory

Learning occurs when information is taken in by the brain and sorted for later retrieval. After all, if a student is taught certain knowledge, but can't retrieve that knowledge at a later time, has she really learned it?

Our minds are complex machines that take in each and every little bit of information and puts them through a complex cognitive process. When we actively try to learn, we strive to commit new knowledge to memory through classification and repetition.

The brain actively records information and stores it in its proper place for easier later retrieval. It's human nature to put data in an order that makes sense to us so that we are more likely to recall it later.

The mind also works to infer missing pieces of information; it builds a bridge composed of likely data to fill the gap between bits of knowledge. So, if a child is presented with a sequence of words such as “chocolate, candy, fruit, cake, dessert”, she might add the word “sweet” upon recall, although it didn't exist in the original sequence. The word “sweet” makes sense because it is stored in the same category as the other words.

This illustrates how our brains create relational links between disparate pieces of information. Related bits of information are processed and sorted and put into a single category. This helps the mind remember a bit of data later because it only has to sort through a single category rather than the entire broad spectrum of knowledge.

Experience and Memory

The ability to “remember” something that doesn't really exist is a two-edged sword. It is beneficial in filling the gap presented when we quickly skim over the words in a book, for instance. But it is detrimental when we use preconceived notions based on experience to surmise what would happen in the natural world. In other words, our memory often fails us when it comes to science because we expect everything in our world to exist, act, and perform in a similar fashion – and that is not always the case.

Personal experience actually alters brain structure and that has an impact on memory. The more experience a student has with a particular subject, for instance, the better able he is to recall related information later. Mental activity is experience, too. Just thinking about a process is enough to turn it into a real memory. Repetition involves the same area of the brain as direct experience so doing something over and over again is an excellent way to commit it to memory.

Using Memory To Teach Science

How does the role of memory in learning affect the efforts of the homeschool teacher? It should be apparent that it's necessary to help your child develop a form of classification to sort incoming data and then be able to retrieve it later. It is also a good practice to help your child establish experiences that relate to the information being learned.

The easiest way to teach your child science, even if you don't have a great understanding of the concepts yourself, is by using a curriculum that aids organization through the way information is presented and experience through hands-on learning, such as experiments. You'll help your kids learn more and remember it better by using the concepts of organization and repetition as they relate to memory.

Dr. Rebecca Keller is the founder of Gravitas Publications, which produces Real Science 4 Kids homeschool science curriculum. RS4K includes student textbooks, lab workbooks and teacher's manuals on the topics of biology, chemistry, astronomy, geology and physics which makes teaching these difficult subjects easy and FUN! Please join her and other homeschool parents on Facebook or visit the Real Science 4 Kids blog. Receive Dr. Keller's 10 Tips for Teaching Real Science by visiting either page!


homeschool science, learning, science

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  1. I’m so thankful that I’m grasping this memorizing thing early in our homeschool adventure! We are also part of a Classical Conversations Community.

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