Using Explorify to build long-term memory
Explorify is developing activities for testing long-term memory.
As teachers, we have all experienced blank looks from children when we mention something in a science lesson that we know they have been taught. It might have entered their short term or ‘working’ memory, if they were motivated to learn at the time and we had caught their attention, but it clearly wasn’t consolidated as a long-term memory. Of course, it could also be that they simply didn’t understand it when you taught it initially.
Our task as teachers is to make learning stick. We believe Explorify is ideally placed to help with this because it provides opportunities for children to:
- discuss a picture
- compare and contrast
- make links between ideas
- look at ideas in a new context
- use their own words to explain and elaborate
Cognitive scientists agree that these factors are important for building long term memory.
In the Autumn term (2022), a group of teachers who were teaching, ‘Teeth, digestion and food chains’, trialled the use of Explorify activities purposefully for retrieval practice.
What the research says
Arthur Shimamura (2018) argues, 'The key to long-lasting memories is the reactivation and elaboration of pertinent information after initial learning’. He suggests applying what he calls the three C's 'categorize, compare, and contrast' which facilitate learning by ‘finding similarities (comparing) and differences (contrasting) between new material and what you already know.' He also says the key for the children is to say it in their own words.
Kendra McMahon, from Bath Spa University, has looked in detail at applying cognitive science principles to primary science teaching. She notes, 'Having a discussion about a picture or diagram that you are looking at works well… it seems that combining the two modes (speech and visuospatial) makes it easier to recall memories.'
What we found worked
All the teachers who responded to our questionnaire at the end of the trial agreed that Explorify had a positive effect on consolidating long-term memories. When asked to compare common strategies for building long term memory with Explorify, they all agreed that the suggested activities were equally or more effective:
‘I think Explorify is more effective as it gives children a spark which then creates an interest and then the children remember more of their learning.’
‘You delve deeper. The discussion allows a depth of knowledge to show. It is an open-ended opportunity to discuss what they know. There is no cap on achievement, and it gives the teacher a chance to see if they really understand.’
Odd One Out activities are designed to get children talking about similarities and differences between the three images. When doing this, they are comparing, contrasting and linking their ideas with what they already know. This process consolidates the memory as it builds new connections and strengthens existing knowledge. As one teacher commented: ‘I used all of the Odd One Out activities for consolidation as early work after the lessons. This really kept the conversation going and encouraged the use of the correct vocabulary’.
Odd One Out activities that teachers felt worked particularly well for retrieval practice when teaching teeth, digestion and food chains were: Bite, rip, mash, Healthy drinks, What would they eat, Our digestive organs, How are these linked to digestion? and Tasty web. Other Odd One Outs that would work for other units include: Where is the water? for changing states, Hot steppers and Terrific tree dwellers for classification, and Winter seeds for seed dispersal.
When selecting an Odd One Out to support retrieval practice ensure:
- it is neither too obvious nor too hard for children to work out
- there is a new and interesting context
- there are lots of opportunities to reinforce vocabulary
- it is relevant to the real-world and/or their own experiences
It is also important to think about when you use Explorify activities within your lessons or your teaching week. As one teacher commented: ‘I used them at more points within the unit of work and at different points within the lesson. In the past I simply used them as discussion starters’. Another added, ‘I was already implementing Explorify in my practice but I now use it more as it is a good way to challenge/ get children to start thinking and discussing’.
The teachers on the pilot also found the What’s Going On? and Zoom In, Zoom Out activities could be effective: “I will also use video experiments as a method of showing what a good experiment looks like, as well as to show things that would be impractical in the classroom”. Teachers used Disappearing Egg Shells to show what happens when our teeth come into contact with acid, but also as a scaffold for them doing their own investigation into the impact of different drinks on teeth. This consolidated children's understanding of tooth decay and the relevant vocabulary. Other What’s Going On? activities that could be used as a launch pad for investigations include: Growing seed and Magnets. The Zoom In, Zoom Out Hidden away was thought very effective for consolidating learning about teeth in children's memories. This could be because the final picture after zooming out provided a stimulus for discussion about the form and function of different teeth types. In a similar way, Light as air would help consolidate memories about the functions of the skeleton.
Go to the Explorify Teacher Support pages to watch the Explorify teaching support video on retrieval practice and building long-term memories.
Arthur Shimamura (2018) MARGE A whole brain learning approach for students and teachers.
Kendra McMahon, Darren McKay and Alison Lee (2021) The Learning Sciences and Primary School Science.