Saturday, June 27, 2009

Do you recall...

Several years ago a concerned mother and I talked for almost two hours about the learning difficulties of her daughter. We concluded that her daughter knew much more than she could recall for tests. Her learning problems stemmed from a memory recall problem.

I checked the psychologist's report, and sure enough, the girl had memory deficits.

I told the mom, "I know your daughter can remember things in tough situations. I've seen her memorize and perform two lengthy dramatic dance pieces in front of the whole school. She has good recall of physical movement. But if I understand you correctly, what you want me to do is to improve your daughter's ability to recall language-based information under pressure?"

She smiled as if I finally got it, "Yes. That's what I want."

I was glad that we had at least narrowed down the problem, even if it took two hours. I now understood what the mom wanted for her daughter. (And the mom now knew what her daughter needed.) "Well, I'm not sure if that is even possible, but I'll look into it."

Memory is one of the two key components of traditional intelligence tests: processing speed being the other. What this mom was asking me to do was to make her daughter "smarter." She was asking for a miracle.

Lucky for that mom that I have a tendency to be delusionally optimistic. I think I can do things that others can't. As I result, I sometimes do.

I began a personal research project on memory improvement. I began to read what the experts have written. I found web-sites that aim to improve memory and processing speed, such as (Brain Training Games). (They also have games for attention!)

I found awesome web-sites such as neuroMod: Memory psychology for a general audience.

What I learned, I passed on to my students, and they improved. The got "smarter."
(And so did I.) You teach best what you know best, so I began my own quest to improve my memory.

I memorized the United States (and their capitals) from west to east with no visual aides. I memorized the countries of central and south America. I used a combination of mnemonics, visualization, and practice.

I developed a process called "SOS squared." It's an acronym for 1) Sift and Sift, 2) Organize and Orchestrate, and 3) Study and Showcase.

I used the methods I learned on neuroMod including memory tag systems to memorize the US Presidents and their number: Chester A. Arthur... #21.

These are more advanced techniques. (I also found simpler techniques such as on-line puzzles for world geography at Owl & Mouse Educational Software.)

I've had fun and I've learned a lot. I've gotten smarter!

So what am I doing on my summer vacation? I'm learning names. Faces and names have always been a challenge for me. (If I can overcome my memory shortcomings, I can teach my students to overcome theirs!)

Last year I found some simple on-line flash card generators such as FlashCardDB When I created these on-line flash cards, my students logged on at home, for no credit, just for the fun of it. (They did the same with the map puzzles.) They learned stuff! Wow.

This summer I've found a free flash card program called the Mnemosyne Project that enables me to create flash cards with visual and audio. I've created "decks" of flash cards containing pictures of people with their names!

Plus, the system uses an advanced algorithm called the Leitner System, which helps me study only the cards I don't know, as often as I need to, in order to keep them in my memory.

This program alone may change a hard working "C" student into a hard working "A" student. Work smart and become smarter!

I'm better at recalling things. I've learned that I can find things and information that I put away carefully.

How smart are you? Who wants to get "smarter"? Perhaps this post will provide a trail head from which you can explore the world of memory improvement. (You may want to bookmark this post so you can find it later!)

Those of you who are involved in working with struggling students, may find some tools to address core deficits such as memory, that will enable your students to overcome obstacles, blossom academically, and take charge of their own learning and life.

Do you recall one of my personal tendencies?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A "New" Bike for Don!

Tomorrow will mark the end of my second week of summer vacation.

You'd think a few more blog entries would have shown up by now! But they haven't. I've been busy, and I've been napping. I've been balancing catching up on household projects and taking naps. I'm also having quite a bit of fun.

Speaking of fun... I bought a bike!

Back in April my daughter inherited a bike from her grandpa. His children and grand-children had a "lottery" of sorts, and Danielle got grandpa's bike. Danielle doesn't have a garage, but I do. So I helped myself to Grandpa's old street bike, until I hurt my back riding it. Ouch: for 4 to 6 weeks.

But before I hurt my back riding the bike, I had some fun. I rode the bike four or five times a week. Just short rides around the neighborhood. I was burning calories and having fun doing it.

So, with a recovered back, and a bit of time on my hands, I researched bikes that were easier on the back, but still lots of fun. I discovered a class of bikes called "comfort" bikes. Inspired by the California Beach Cruisers of the 60's, these bikes let you sit up straight, see the road, and offer a big cushy seat over big cushy tires.

I went to a local bike store and did some test rides around the parking lot. I found a winner: an Electra Townie Original 7D for "only" $400ish. I even found the color I liked: vivid blue. Check it out...

But this is not the bike I bought. I can give you 400 or so reasons. I may eventually buy the bike, but I thought I'd better do a reality check with something less pricey. CraigsList to the rescue!

I'd looked on CraigsList for an Electra before, but I had not found one. Then... one showed up about 10 miles away! It now lives in my garage. (Cost: $120)

I've adjusted the seat, the handle bars, and applied some oil in appropriate places. I've started touring the neighborhood again. I'm burning calories and having fun.

I pulled the bike out of the garage tonight to snap a few photos to share here, hence, the somewhat strange lighting... but you get the idea.

Where I live, you can ride a bike year round. Two or three weeks out of the year we have rain, and since my bike lacks fenders, I'll skip those few wet days. But otherwise, barring any further back mishaps... I'm rolling along on my four or five year old Electra Deluxe. It has seven speeds of fun and a chain guard! Woo hoo!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fathers' Day -- Overheard in a check out line...

I had a lovely Fathers' Day. It resembled many of my other days, which just means I have a lot of lovely days. The highlights of my day were the calls from my grown children, a card from my wife, and a snippet of dialogue overheard at the grocery store.

Mom (to daughter): What shall we get Daddy for Fathers' Day?

Daughter: Let's let him go play golf!

Mom: Oh no. There will be too many dads doing that. Besides, I already told him he has to go to your piano recital.

Hmmm... back in November last year, I wrote a blog entry called "True Love." The post explains how True Love seeks to give appropriate gestures of love.

Obviously the mom in the grocery line missed that post. The little girl either read the post, or didn't need to. She knew what Daddy liked. She loved Daddy and wanted him to have what he liked. Simple as that.

Me? I was in the grocery line... alone... giving my wife the equivalent of flowers. My wife doesn't like flowers... the cats eat them. But she does like it if I'll run to the store and pick up a few things.

Mothers' Day: Fathers' Day: Every day: lovely days.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God. And everyone that loveth not, loveth not God, for God is love." (John the Apostle -- King James Version)

Live the dash! Love your people!

(So what's with the picture at the top of the post? My daughter is having twins! She told us on Mothers' Day. So what did she give me for Fathers' Day? An update... twin BOYS! A nice addition to the two daughters they already have. More baby pics in early December?)