Optimal Learning

Posted by Paul Wilkinson on 4/30/2023

Social Studies is building our understanding of the principles and ideas we’ve studied this year, from the causes, effects, and reasoning for the American Revolution to the Civil War. We are working to better understand attempts to expand freedom and rights during Reconstruction after the Civil War. Next up are the closing of the American frontier and the Transcontinental Railroad. The quantity of ideas for young minds to juggle as we prepare to live meaningful lives is considerable.

Simultaneously, neuroeducators continue to struggle to understand learning in light of historical changes in how people gather, process, and use information. One such debate that’s been churning for years is “paper vs. digital.”

The conversation about changing learning technology is vast—How to Help Students Embrace Reading. Educators Weigh In (Opinion) (edweek.org) is a starting point. But I read a phrase from the continued conversation over the weekend that puts the paper/digital conversation in a functional context: “inefficient allocation of cognitive resources” (Relation between digital tool practices in the language arts classroom and reading comprehension scores | SpringerLink). To give myself more time to use my cognitive resources to provide student feedback, I outsourced my analysis of an upbeat version of that phrase to good old GPT4. Here’s what the leading AI said (as if to underscore the historical changes in how we process information, Grammarly and Microsoft Editor suggested multiple improvements to GPT4’s analysis, many of which I accepted):

Q: Explain the efficient use of cognitive resources at a seventh-grade level.

A: Efficient use of cognitive resources means using your brainpower best to learn, solve problems, and make decisions. Our brains have limited energy and attention, so using these resources wisely is essential. Here are some tips for using your cognitive resources efficiently:

  1. Focus on one task at a time: Trying to do multiple things simultaneously can slow you down and make learning harder. Concentrate on one task, and avoid distractions like TV, social media, or loud noises.
  2. Break tasks into smaller parts: Large tasks can be overwhelming. Breaking them into smaller, manageable pieces can help you stay focused and make progress.
  3. Use memory strategies: Mnemonics, like acronyms or rhymes, can help you remember information more easily. For example, using the acronym “HOMES” to remember the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
  4. Take breaks and rest: Give your brain time to recharge by taking short breaks and getting enough sleep. This can help you stay focused and retain information better.
  5. Ask for help when needed: If you’re struggling with a concept or task, don’t hesitate to ask a teacher, parent, or friend for help. They can offer guidance and support to help you understand the material better.
  6. Practice regularly: The more you practice a skill, the better you become at it. Regular exercise helps to strengthen connections in your brain, making tasks easier over time.

By following these tips, you can maximize your cognitive resources and become a more efficient learner.

These ideas work for paper and digital learning, not to mention physical skills. As GPT4 told me when I asked it for golf advice on Saturday, “Remember that consistent practice and patience are crucial for long-term improvement.”

Back to patient practice, including using primary sources to analyze the post-Civil War era, the closing of the frontier, and our final unit, financial literacy.