Connections between prior experiences, interests, and previous thought processes
Introduction: The potential capacity of the human mind to collate, store and recall information continues to fascinate scientists. Wesson (2003) points to the connection between prior experiences, interests, and previous thought processes, and the brain development thus, “The emerging capabilities and talents that (1) receive significant amounts of time and attention 2) have key emotional, personal, and/or survival linkages, and (3) are repeated often, are skills that have the greatest likelihood of developing elaborate neural connections that become almost impervious to destruction short of disease or regional brain trauma”.
This essay shall explain the significance of such connections by stating examples from students’ past experiences, and relating them to various the concepts of learning.
Thought-Processes and Experiences: Slavin (2003) states, “The human mind is a meaning maker. From the first microsecond you see, hear taste, or feel something, you start a process of deciding what it is, how it relates to what you already know, and whether it is important to keep in your mind or should be discarded”.
This thought becomes strategically important in the classroom environment, especially when students are introduced to scientific concepts and their laws as observed in Nature. In any given subject, the students need to be engaged in prior knowledge experiences, wherein teachers shall be able to assess and value the knowledge students already possess. These are important to the learning process, since they help in making sense of our learning experiences. This process puts forth an interesting challenge to the students, taking them away from merely memorizing information to meaningful learning. For example, in the Science class, this researcher/writer had to introduce Newton’s First Law of Motion, to the class. Newton’s first law of Motion states that “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it”. This law which seems relatively complicated to explain became simple and easy, when concepts of cognitive learning were applied in teaching the students.
Researchers like Jean Piaget (1970), have postulated the theory of cognitive development, which elucidates the process of learning in human beings – from experience, going on to reason, store relevant information, modify behavior to suit the environment. By introducing a common toy namely top, which keeps rotating until such time as the forces of atmosphere bring it to a halt, Newton’s law was easily explained to the class. Introducing the unknown science law is made simple by activating their background knowledge of their childhood game of playing with the torque. The students, most of whom have been familiar with the common top or torque, unconsciously activated their “schemas” or their existing understandings/theories about motion, and the force that makes the rotation cease.
Bartlett (1932, 1958) posited the concept of ‘schema’ which suggests that memory takes the form of schema, providing a mental framework for understanding and remembering information; it is useful in understanding students’ knowledge constructs and also their potential recall ability of stored experiences and information gained thereof. Stein and Trabasso (1982) highlights the theory being powerful tool in helping students comprehend abstract information as they can be difficult to comprehend, giving them a unifying theme for content and connectivity. Furthermore, it is important that as a teacher to include activities in the lesson plan of the class, such simple familiar experiences, that generate interest in learning and, student interests. Additionally, Research by Price and Driscoll (1997), in the problem solving ability of the student, with both the familiar and unfamiliar situations, and use of maps on student recall by Schwartz Ellsworth (1998) suggest that Schema Theory is indeed a powerful aid, and facilitate better remembrance.
According to Craik and Lockhart (1972), there are different levels of processing within the human brain; the information stimuli are processed at more than one level all at once, according to its characteristics. Better remembrance is facilitated by “deeper” processing. In the above stated experience, information that involves strong visual images or many associations of playing with the ‘top’ will be processed at a deeper level, aiding better recall. This is supported by Wesson (2003) “Dr. Bruce Perry at the Baylor College of Medicine, the development of the cerebral cortex can be reduced by as much as 20% under these conditions rendering many brain structures under-developed. Diminishing one’s learning opportunities reduce the quantity of neural networks, which decreases one’s ability to learn in the future.”
Conclusion: It is useful to consider the various concepts of cognitive learning, as the research findings help and aid better learning experience and recall in students.
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Paiget, J. (1970). The Science of Education amd the Psychology of the Child. NY: Grossman
Price, E. & Driscoll, M. (1997). “An Inquiry into the Spontaneous Transfer of Problem-Solving Skill.” Contemporary Educational Psychology 22, 472–494.
Schwartz, N., Ellsworth, L., Graham, L., & Knight, B. (1998) “Accessing Prior Knowledge to Remember Text: A Comparison of Advance Organizers and Maps” Contemporary Educational Psychology 23, 65–89 (1998)
Slavin, Robert E. (2003). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003.
Stein, N. L. & Trabasso, T. (1982). What’s in a story? An approach to comprehension. In
R.Glaser (Ed.), Advances in the psychology of instruction, Vol. 2. (pp. 213-268) Hillsdale, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Wesson, A. Kenneth. (2003). “Early Brain Development and Learning” in Science Master,
Retrieved on June 25, 2006 from Website address <http://www.sciencemaster.com/columns/wesson/wesson_early_01.php>
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