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Experiments in Spaced Learning

It’s exam time again already, and with it came the usual request from my Head of Department for any innovative ideas of how we could approach revision / lay on extra things for the Year 10 & 11s before there first exam next month. This prompted a memory of a newspaper article about a school combining short bursts of learning with bursts of exercise….

Searching Google for ‘Revision with exercise’ or similar did not get me any closer to what I was looking for, thank God once again for my Twitter network, a quick question to them and the correct term of ‘Spaced Learning’ and several links came flying my way. 🙂

Spaced Learning‘ is a learning technique which has been developed by Paul Kelley and staff at Monkseaton High School in North-East England in conjunction with staff from Cambridge University. Born out of research in the US about how our brains supposedly form lasting memories. To quote some the Monkseaton Website:

Surprisingly, constant stimulation of the cell did not make the cells ‘switch on’. Stimulation had to be separated by gaps when the cell was not stimulated. The breakthrough came when the team ‘began to realise that the important factor was time’.

This has been developed into 1 hour Spaced Learning lessons which are comprised of 10mins of quick fire fact based learning directed by the teacher, 10mins of sport so that the mind is not thinking about the learning at all, 10mins of the same learning but with a little more interaction, 10mins sport and then a further quick learning session with a little more interaction again. Monkseaton have apparently taught entire GCSE Science modules in 2-3 hours with this technique to considerable success.

I have a small Year 11 GCSE group who are trying desperately to get the holy grail of a Grade C this year. They have already attempted the GCSE last year and achieved D/E grades. At this point I’m willing to give anything a go to help them remember a few more key facts in their final exams. This approach to learning seems suited to certain, more fact based parts of Maths than to others. I have decided to try Area & Volume as the first topic. Although the Mathematical skills required to answer these questions is low, this class performs poorly on the topic due to forgetting which formulae / method to use for which shape or situation.

I’ve put together the following presentation for Monday’s lesson. For the first run through the topic I will lead it entirely, reading through the slides in a very old fashioned way. We’ll then nip outside for 10 minutes of basketball fun. On the second run through, I’ll pause before revealing formulae and methods and ask for pupil recall. 10 minutes more basketball. Finally I’ll just run through the formulae and then the group will have a go at some quick GCSE questions.

There are arguments against this I’m sure. The teaching of facts for recall feels dated. I’m yet to see evidence that this gives anything other than a short-term boost to recall. I’m also more than aware that I should have found a way to embed this knowledge at a much earlier date, through investigation and discovery. That has not happened however, and due to the weight that society now places on possessing a C-grade in Maths & English, I’m happy to try anything to give the pupils that letter on their CV.

I sold the idea to the pupils today and they’re all up for it and looking forward to the lesson, if nothing else then that should help the learning!

I’ll report back on Monday on the goings on, and a few weeks later on their recall. Sadly I don’t have time to conduct a more scientific study at the moment! If it looks promising, other topics I plan to try include Averages & Range and Angles.

Has anyone experience of trying this approach? What are your thoughts on the principles? Any feedback on the old-school presentation I’ve prepared?

Oh, and fingers crossed for the weather, not something I tend to worry about in the Maths classroom. 🙂

Final oh – I’ve tagged links I’ve found so far on delicious.

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