Hands-on Tasks are Good
Dr. Kathie F. Nunley
or 'hands-on', activities benefit everyone and should be plentiful
and encouraged with all students. The reason for this relates to
the two different memory systems in our heads. One is called the
semantic memory and the other is the episodic memory. They are actually
in two different locations in the brain.
memory is composed of those things we have specifically set out
to learn and remember, such as "who was the 1st president of the
United States?" or "how many stars are there on the flag?" Or, "what
is 6 times 3?" All of us were taught the answers to these questions
and we intentionally set out to remember them. We stored them in
our semantic memory.
if I ask you "what did you have to eat last night?" or "where were
you last Christmas?" Or "what is your most memorable birthday?"
You would also be able to answer these questions. But why? Did you
specifically set out to remember what you had for dinner last night
in anticipation that I would ask you today? Did you go to bed repeating
it over and over? No of course not, yet you remember it easily.
This is information that is stored in your episodic memory (think
of it as the 'episodes' of your life). It is our autobiography of
everything that has happened to us. It is unintentionally remembered.
two systems are linked or networked together and often one will
help us with the other. We know that they are completely separate
in the brain however, because in some instances a person will lose
one but not the other. In Alzheimer's disease, people tend to lose
their episodic memory but not their semantic. So although they don't
know if they have children, they do remember that there are 50 stars
on the flag.
I tell people I'm a biology teacher they usually reply..."Ughhh,
all I remember about biology is that we had to dissect frogs". I
find it fascinating that I get this response from so many people,
even if it's been 40 years since they were in high school. Why do
they remember the frogs? Possibly because it was one of the few
hands-on events that they experienced that year.
is by understanding the relationship between these two memory systems
that we can see the true advantage to using "hands-on" activities
in the classroom. They target both memory systems and the students
have a better chance for retention.
Dr Kathie Nunley is an educational psychologist, researcher and
author of several books on parenting and teaching, including A Student's
Brain (Brains.org) and the best selling, "Differentiating the High
School Classroom" (Corwin Press). She is the developer of the Layered
Curriculum® method of instruction and has worked with parents and
educators around the world to better structure schools to make brain-friendly
environments. In addition, her work has been used by the Boeing
Corporation, Family Circle Magazine, the Washington Post, and ABC
her: Kathie (at) brains.org