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Memory Work

Kids are hardwired to remember some things (the color of their favorite toy or the number of days till the next vacation) but in teaching we do not often use the same brain based strategies to help them remember important science ideas. There are a few simple ideas that every student can use to help them with any memory work they might need.

If you are like me you have to use every trick in the book to memorize student names at the start of the year. You may use facial clues or mnemonic tricks. Some use repetition. Neuroscience tells us that we remember things that are unusual. We remember larger than life things, funny or sad things, and things that fit into a larger pattern.

We remember song lyrics based on repetition and the melody. Lots of teachers have used rap and music to help students remember the planets, carbon cycle or any number of science facts. This first site has a host of songs from scientific safety to chemistry.

I do not mean to imply that science instruction is memorizing facts. I do know that often getting some students to memorize some science facts is empowering doorways to richer deeper learning. For example, knowing some of the ion formulas, names and charges can help students use those formulas to name ions, write equations and communicate chemistry ideas. The use is powerful but the empowering of students in need of some success is even more important.

One good site uses keywords or peg words to help with memorization. This could be helpful with some of the more difficult words in biology.

What this looks like in practice is simple. I keep routines the same so that students can learn some procedures and ideas simply from the repetition. When we get to a term or an idea I give some mnemonic suggestions.  If I was teaching geology I would want the kids to understand that geologic periods are divided into some classification. Then, I would use a sentence mnemonic to help them remember the sequence.

Can Very Callous Old Senators Demand More Power and Privilege Than Junior Congressmen?
(Cryptozoic, Vendian, Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous) 

Please Eat More Pickled PepPers
(Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene)

Then, with that sequence in place we would begin studying what evidence of change, plants, and animals are in place in those periods. The big concept is change over time (evolution) but the students have a chance to get comfortable with a small slice of the content with a mnemonic first step. The big ideas still drive the course but we are using mnemonics to get the door open for some kids.

In my early years I tried to learn a new term in science each day. I wrote these on index cards. That was a nice brain exercise but it was not valuable until I took out the terms and tired to connect them to the larger picture of science in a concept web. Connecting homeostasis to trophic levels takes some thinking but it will help flesh out the more important stuff of science. 

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