6D Learning #3
Human thinking involves the interaction of ideas, and ideas about ideas....
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To help students explore how ideas are formed, how associations are made, and how they contribute to learning and memory.
This lesson helps students explore how people form ideas, how they make associations between ideas, and how these impact learning.
The lesson makes reference to research conducted at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania. The research focuses on how the brain creates new ideas and how this is related to associations and memory. Research subjects are asked to create associations between random word couplings, such as desk/cloud. As the participant works to combine the two disparate concepts to create a novel idea, brain-imaging techniques are used to observe how and in what order different parts of the brain respond to these word pairs.
Thus far, researchers have determined that the frontal part of the right side of the brain is used when a person attempts to combine two concepts. This part of the brain has been shown in other experiments to be involved in the working memory. A second finding is that when participants successfully fuse the words to form a new concept, areas known to be involved in processing memory and language throughout the brain are used.
Though students will spend some time talking about the experiment, the focus of this lesson is more abstract, and it will entail discussing where ideas come from and how different people think differently. This research will be related to students' understanding of their own learning process. Encouraging students to think about what they have learned and how they have learned it will help to illuminate the strategies that work best for them.
Take a few moments to preview the Memory Test ahead of time to familiarize yourself with discussion points.
Then, read the Looking for the Roots of "False Memores" to prepare for guiding student discussion.
Have students use their Word Connections student E-Sheet to go to and take the Memory Test from the Department of Psychology of Northwestern University. The quiz asks students to view words on a screen. For each word they see, they should imagine the corresponding image in their mind and decide if that object is bigger or smaller than a shoebox. Once they've viewed all of the words and images, they will hear a set of spoken words. After each word, they need to indicate whether or not they saw the image of that word in the previous part of the test.
The quiz shows students that we can create false memories because of associations that we have created between ideas. For example, on the quiz, students are asked if the word "zebra" showed a corresponding image. Though it did not have an image with it, some students may have thought so.
Ask students these questions:
- Did you think there were images of words on the test that were not on the original lists? (Many students will have had at least one false memory.)
- Why might you have thought there was an image of a word that was not on the original list? (The words leading to false memories tend to be slightly more concrete, on average, than those that did not. Presumably, people could generate a visual image more easily for the more concrete words. The flip side is that memory for viewed photographs was often correct. People gave many correct responses for objects they indeed viewed.)
- What does the memory quiz suggest about how our brain recalls words or ideas? (Our brains "bulk," or group, words together.)
- How do you think these associations work? Does one word "trigger" you into thinking of others? (Students should understand the presentation of one image stimulates other associations and they believe it's a memory.)
Students should use their student E-Sheet to go to and read Looking for the Roots of "False Memories" from the APA Monitor Online, which provides an explanation of false memories. Have them focus on this quote from the article:
"These studies imply that production of false memories is quite common, particularly when information in the real world strongly activates words and, possibly, concepts in the brain associated with that information. They also imply that the more distinctive and well remembered an event, the less likely false memories will occur, said the researchers." Looking for the Roots of "False Memories", APA Monitor Online, 1999.
Continue to discuss word associations with your students:
Next, have students use their student E-Sheet to go to Word Associations, a Science Update that discusses research being conducted on the relationship between the creation of new ideas in the brain to memory and associations. The research looks at how the brain reacts when asked to form a new concept with two words that one would not naturally associate, like we have done with the words computer and virus. The research also considers how the formation of the new concept relates to the parts of the brain that are used for memory and processing. Give students the Making Connections student sheet, which they should complete based on what they learned from the E-Sheet.
- Do you ever use associations between words to remember things (on purpose)? (Students may use this technique when studying, particularly in memorizing. Allow students to share examples of techniques that they use when studying, and why they think they are helpful.)
- How do you think associations come into play with how you learn? (You may want to bring up that different people learn differently. For instance, some people learn better with hands-on experience, some need to see or hear things to better retain them. How do these forms of learning make associations? When discussing learning, it does not need to be schoolwork, it can be a skill or a task.)
- How can the associations of words and ideas affect how you think? (As discussed in the article, one idea or word may "trigger" others. This could trick you into thinking you had a memory, or it could help you remember things accurately.)
- What do you think happens to the brain when two ideas or words are presented that you do NOT naturally associate? (This sets up the next part of the lesson, and challenges students to think about how the brain works. Students should be encouraged to brainstorm ideas.)
In the final part of the lesson, students will apply what they have learned. Tell students they will form their own novel ideas. They will be given two words that have nothing to do with one another. With those two words, they are to come up with a new concept, which they can portray on paper through words or pictures.
The random word combinations can be of any two words that do NOT go together in our everyday language. The example in the Science Update is desk-cloud. Other pairs you might present to students are: frog-proton, brick-coin, truck-bottle, chord-nature, energy-pancake.
Students can write their concepts or sketch them out. You may choose to give the whole class the same words, or to put some options on the board from which students can choose.
Once students have had a chance to write or sketch their concepts, ask them these questions:
- Are there variations among the concepts that you wrote or drew? (There should be some variation between students since we do not all think alike, and this question sets up the next.)
- Take one of the random word combinations and compare two students that have very different interpretations. Where did your ideas come from. (It will be interesting to point out that two people may think very differently.)
- What do the interpretations of these two students have in common? (Even if the interpretations differ greatly, you're looking for the class to recognize that both students used an interaction of ideas or prior knowledge. If students don't know what the two students have in common, ask what we all have in common when we think. The answers do not need to be anything in particular; what you're driving at is that in the act of thinking, we all have ideas and those ideas interact.)
- Where do other associations come from? (Discuss the other senses. Smell has the strongest associations, so you may want to ask students if certain smells elicit certain memories. Songs on the radio also do the same, etc.)
You can assign the Assessment activity for homework. Student directions can be found on the student E-Sheet. Students should come up with their own word association exercise and test it out on at least ten people. The purpose of the study should be to find insight to one or all of the following:
When you collect the assignments, they should include three sections:
- How the expectations, moods, and prior experiences of human beings can affect how they interpret new perceptions or ideas.
- That human thinking involves the interaction of ideas, and ideas about ideas.
- That people can produce many associations internally without receiving information from their senses.
- Students should explain clearly in writing how they conducted their surveys or studies. For instance, if there was a questionnaire, it should be included.
- Then, they should describe the results and what the results might mean, as in the article that they read describing false memory.
- The final paragraph of that description should make a statement that relates the results of the test to the idea presented in the benchmark above.
The Internet Psychology Lab offers some interactive sections on how some memories, such as visual and auditory, are obtained. Direct students to the homepage and tell them to explore the site. This page is more about how experiences and stimuli get into the brain rather than how the brain stores and reuses them, but can add an interesting element to the lesson above.