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From neurons to teaching efficiency …..and to your job. Helen Abadzi Education for All Fast Track Initiative (c/o World Bank) March 18, 2011. For the University of Michigan. Smart domains of knowledge for you to study. International agencies are deluged with CVs

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from neurons to teaching efficiency and to your job

From neurons to teaching efficiency …..and to your job

Helen Abadzi

Education for All Fast Track Initiative

(c/o World Bank)

March 18, 2011

For the University of Michigan

smart domains of knowledge for you to study
Smart domains of knowledge for you to study
  • International agencies are deluged with CVs
  • When you finish your masters or doctorate in education what will you be able to say you can do?
  • Can you advise how best to train people at various levels?
    • Can you explain why some choices re better than others?
  • Can you do design evaluation studies, analyze complex datasets?
    • Can you explain whether the findings make sense given how people learn or think?
cognitive neuroscience knowledge domain to help you interpret concepts
Cognitive neuroscience:Knowledge domain to help you interpret concepts:
    • Such as
  • Constructivism
  • Active learning
  • Child-centered learning
  • Teacher-centered instruction
  • Classroom climate
  • Quality of education
  • Zones of proximal development
a glimpse to a trove of knowledge known by a few
A glimpse to a trove of knowledgeknown by a few
  • Low-income students tend to do very poorly
  • International agencies want to see financing converted to information
  • How to facilitate better retention, integration, use of knowledge under conditions unknown in higher-income countries?
  • Cognitive neuroscience offers the needed principles
    • Mainly cognitive psychology of the 1990s
  • Education faculties rarely teach this field

The lecture will give you a sample

what happens to information on its way to being learned
What happens to information on its way to being learned?

Knowledge taught in school must go through:

Attention mechanisms

Short term memory limitations

Encoding through “rules” of cognitive networks

consolidation into long-term memory

the micro level features are reflected in macro memory features
The micro level features are reflected in macro memory features

Education modifies brain architecture

As a result of school work:

certain proteins are made for permanent storage

New axons and dendrites created

Connecting parts of the brain that were not earlier connected

Neuron synapses open and close in milliseconds

Knowledge is stored in neuron assemblies

spatio-temporal patterns

principle from neuron functions we remember best the info we have used most recently and most often
Principle from neuron functions:We remember best the info we have used most recently and most often

Neuron assemblies connect in spatio-temporal patterns to store information

Feedback is needed for modification

Neural networks

Neuron assemblies

biological mysteries of memory
Biological mysteries of memory
  • Aromas of rosemary
  • Chewing gum
  • Effort, physical activity
  • Glucose
  • Items presented within 30 minutes of humor
    • funny classes matter
  • Sleep
  • But emotions have inverted U relationship with performance
slide9

Your mind contains these kinds of

Conscious knowledge

We can talk about it

Unconscious knowledge

Daily life

School

curricula

Vocational skills, computer use,

Typing

Word, Excel

Imitating conscious or unconscious movements (buttoning shirt)

Reading automaticity

Knowledge encoded in movements

Valuing certain knowledge

Reward expectations

“noncognitive” skills:

Showing up on time

Carrying out obligations

etc

Background

noises deemed ordinary

slide10
Short-term memory capacity

Why speed is needed for comprehension

(working memory)

12 seconds at most

About 7 items

4 pictures

Cognitive networks

125 gigs

semantic memory !

Long-term memory

implication of short term memory fluency must be the goal of all training
Implication of short-term memory:Fluency must be the goal of all training
  • Students should be trained for fluency in reading
  • In math
  • in vocational skills (procedural memory)
  • In basic facts – so that they pop up in students’ minds
    • No time should be lost in searches
short term memory capacity determines how we learn and act
Short-term memory capacity determines how we learn and act
  • Fluency must be the goal of all training
  • Automatic, fluent performance needed for frequently used skills
  • If we search the mind for answers, we forget the problems we tried to solve !
slide13
After some practice, our mind groups letters into ever-larger chunks All sophisticated skills are built like this
implication of short term memory fluency must be the goal of all training1
Implication of short-term memory:Fluency must be the goal of all training

Practice shortens reaction time, we do things without much attention:

Reading

Math calculations

Vocationally related skills

Gas chromatograph, computer operation, etc.

Time, materials, homework must be used to bring about fluency

So what is the most important goal in beginning literacy?

journey of an information item when did mozart live 1756 1791
Journey of an information itemWhen did Mozart live (1756-1791)?
  • An item going into your mind (e.g. Mozart’s birthdate)
    • Must first get attention, enters through senses
  • Passes through the short-term memory bottleneck
  • Ends up in the contents of the long-term memory bottle
  • Gets classified into existing networks based on specific “rules”
  • If not contemplated or used, it may be forgotten
  • With use, it gets reconsolidated, reclassified under networks of “deeper” meaning
  • After 10 years of use or 10,000 hours of practice, expertise arises, and the item resides in a modular network
attention is needed to learn anything
Attention is needed to learn anything

Animals are set up to pay attention mainly to changes in the environment.

The ‘default’ state is inattentiveness

Attention requires conscious control

Control develops throughout childhood

Perhaps adding roughly a minute per year of age

Being called on by a teacher influences performance

Reinforcement on a ‘variable ratio’ maintains attention best (B. F. Skinner)

A student who knows little and has little chance of being called upon will likely learn very little from schooling

biological tendency for network organization cognitive networks under construction
Biological tendency for network organizationCognitive networks under construction

Items are usually categorized on the basis of meaning (particularly after age 12)

Children in particular may classified items in series

if information survives up to long term memory rules determine which items will be retained
If information survives up to long-term memory.. “rules”determine which items will be retained

Spoken rather than written info

Imageable (picture superiority effect)

Contemplated and connected to existing knowledge through meaning

Encoded through multiple senses

Somewhat distinct from others

but not unheard of

At the beginning or end of a session

In small chunks at a time

Reviewed at intervals spaced apart

not crammed

Generated rather than just given

crucial for remembering and forgetting organization and links among items
Crucial for remembering and forgetting:organization and links among items

Information is recalled along the same paths on which it was encoded

We remember information items by traveling along the pathways where they were encoded

E.g. remember a foreign language better by reviewing your old books, going where it was spoken

Places, time, smells, are encoded with the information (encoding specificity)

Proust and the “madeleines”

to be remembered items must be attached to very specific hooks
To be remembered, items must be attached to very specific “hooks”

(encoding specificity), zones of proximal development?

If we don’t know where to “hang” something, we forget it

Can you remember…. Chloro(trephenylphosphine)gold” ?

We need concrete examples to retain abstractions

If we know where to hang something, we understand!

from items we draw conclusions and find rules
From items we draw conclusions and find rules

Precise fit of information items

  • A paradox:
    • Items can only be linked very specifically to other items (encoding specificity)
    • but once linked, rules are extracted from patterns
      • conclusions drawn
    • knowledge multiplies, easy to learn anything !
  • Cognition - interplay between remembering an item and deriving conclusions
    • Generalization, transfer difficult
    • Certain rigidity

Prior knowledge

Conclusion

example

example

New items attached

the mind derives rules from items and events
The mind derives rules from items and events
  • People drop the details, remember the gist
  • Particularly for repetitive events, the specific information may be discarded
    • What did you see on the road while going to work three months ago?
  • People will reconstruct from repetitive events, develop “schemas”
    • “recall” false details based on likely events
the more knowledge we have the more we have hooks to hang new items
The more knowledge we have, the more we have hooks to hang new items
  • Fast reading, fast intermediate calculations reward learners
    • help create ‘self motivated learners’
  • Elaboration, practice reconfigure networks
  • 10 years of practice create expertise
  • Innovation, creativity – research ongoing on these issues
e laboration and use reconfigure cognitive networks into deep structure
Elaboration and use reconfigure cognitive networks into “deep structure”
  • Upon teaching, items may be classified through “superficial” characteristics
  • With elaboration and practice, items may be reclassified under underlying concepts
  • “surface structure” to “deep structure”
  • “deeper” principles help create analogies:
    • Generalizing: Transfer of learning to problems that superficially appear different
      • Have same “deeper” structure
  • “rote memorization” just connects items,
    • no elaboration
elaboration contemplation crucial educational concept
Elaboration, contemplation:Crucial educational concept
  • “Contemplation” activities help transfer items to multiple or different classifications
      • Some such activities may be “active learning”
      • Really active processing
  • Students who get elaboration exercises connect knowledge
    • E.g. Connections to motor networks
      • Multisensory inputs
    • Knowledge “pops up” whenever needed
some implications of cognitive network functions
Some implications of cognitive network functions
  • Organization and links matter as much as the information itself
  • Knowledge is cumulative
    • Students need exact “hooks” with prior knowledge
    • Dropouts can’t just return without remediation
  • Students with primary school deficits can’t benefit from secondary school
      • They need remediation!
  • extra books benefit the best
    • Matthew effect
poor quality schools may just teach items in loose series
Poor-quality schools may just teach items in loose series

Students may just recite or listen…

The heroes of the revolution are…

The principles of constitutional law are….

2x2=4, 2x3=6, 2x4=8, 2x5=10….

  • Note: Information is recalled along the same paths on which it was encoded
high quality institutions offer activities to create complex networks
High-quality institutions offer activities to create complex networks

Students recite +

read long texts+

manipulate +

collect real-world samples +

answer questions connecting various items +

derive new conclusions from data +

solve problems +

practice for fluency +

generalize into various circumstances

slide32

Knowledge in the schools of the poor

Less utility for employers

Knowledge in the schools of the better-off

More utility for employers

time is needed for consolidation instructional time amount crucial
Time is needed for consolidation:instructional time amount crucial
  • Teaching time increases the probability that cognitive networks will be built
  • High-income countries and schools put more at students’ disposal, so even if some tasks are inefficient, there is redundancy.
    • also repetitions, reviews etc.
  • Schools of the poor give less time to students.
    • May get few chances to create a sensible semantic network about a topic
slide34
Instructional time is what the governments pay forBut only a fraction of the investment is actually converted into learning time
lack of textbooks translates into time wastage at all levels
Lack of textbooks translates into time wastage at all levels
  • Copying, dictation necessary
  • Limited practice, time, feedback
  • Due to a lack of knowledge and materials, teachers do very few activities
  • Teacher boredom: Could you spend 20 years in blackboard transcription?
efficient classroom activities
Efficient classroom activities
  • Brief lecturing with examples, analogies
  • Asking students at random to answer
    • variable ratio reinforcement best maintains attention
  • Elaboration, contemplation of the material
    • retrieval, recombinations, analyses
    • Selective use of groups
  • Textbooks, other structured material
    • Students should copy or take dictation only as a curricular activity
slide38
Minimum reading speed needed for comprehension

45-60 words correct per minute

(working memory)

12 seconds at most

About 7 items

4 pictures

Cognitive networks

125 gigs

semantic memory !

Long-term memory

perceptual learning visual complexity in various languages and scripts psycholinguistic grains
Perceptual Learning: Visual complexity in various languages and scripts(Psycholinguistic grains)

English

through, caught, bake, often, saw, sew

French

Ils etaient, oiseau, mois, etant

Bengali

jomi – earth

boithak – meeting

koThin - difficult

mathematics are innate to some extent
Mathematics are innate to some extent

Triple code in the brain: sense of quantity, number name, symbol

Babies, animals manipulate about 3 items

Addition and subtraction more “natural”, multiplication and division less so

Magnitude processing, Weber fraction (some people better than others)

higher level math is based on preschool and early grade tasks
Higher-level math is based on preschool and early grade tasks
  • Lower SES children start off and stay in poorer performance
  • Activities needed to connect the verbal and the visuospatial parts
  • Interventions needed since kindergarten:
    • quickly estimate how many things in a group
    • Build number line
    • Measure, compare sizes
    • Develop fluency of calculations
instructional principles to apply from cognitive neuroscience to teaching practices
Instructional principles to applyFrom cognitive neuroscience to teaching practices

Long-term memory consolidation (protein formation transfer from hippocampus etc)

Input into short-term memory

Neuron connections to encode information

-Need for teaching methods that optimize classification and retrieval of info

-Optimally spaced reviews

  • Students need feedback
  • Sufficient learning time
  • Retrieval opportunities

- Need for fluency

- Info must pop up in mind without conscious searches

interventions in countries of all income and educational levels
Interventions in countries of all income and educational levels
  • Fluency of basic skills
    • emphasis on achievement in grades 1-2
  • Prior knowledge needed for a specific topic (hooks)
  • Textbooks or a structured set of materials per student
  • Use of allotted time for instruction, practice, elaboration
  • Teacher training for appropriate (elaboration) activities
    • video-modeling methods more efficient in behavior change
  • Supervision of the relevant teaching activities
    • Frequent feedback and reinforcement to teaching staff, given the way the brain’s reward system works
countries need valid technical advice on learning efficiency
Countries need valid technical advice on learning efficiency
  • Which expert to believe?
  • Degrees in education do not guarantee knowledge
    • Often personal opinions, “Anglo-centric” views are given
  • Evidence-based expertise is needed!
  • You could learn this domain of knowledge and do a better job !
suggestion learn better how to integrate psychology findings
Suggestion: learn better how to integrate psychology findings
  • Test hypotheses in dissertations and theses
  • Take 3 psychology courses before you graduate
    • Cognitive psychology
    • Perceptual psychology – for reading etc.
    • Neuropsychology
      • ALSO:
    • Social and/or motivation
    • Educational psychology? Depends on content
    • Tell your faculty you want such courses
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