There is a close relationship between cognitive learning and instructional strategies, specifically in areas that use technology. One of the aspects of cognitive learning is the inability to have more than seven thoughts in a person's short term memory. The more distractions, the less likely that knowledge will pass from short-term to long-term memory and be retained. Using technology can reduce or eliminate distractions, so it can be useful in areas that we may not fully appreciate. One example that is close to my heart is using Microsoft Excel to help with lower level mathematics skills so that the student can look higher and attain higher learning. Karen Casselman spoke of technology helping to facilitate learning by eliminating the tedious repetition (Laureate, 2011). Instead of concentrating on addition, the students allowed Excel to perform the addition, and then they could concentrate on the higher level knowledge of the lesson, in her case trending. It is important to note that Casselman's students did set up the spreadsheet formulas in Excel. Since the students are using their short-term memory to add, they cannot hope to achieve trend analysis. I did a similar exercise with my middle school students when we went through a unit on perimeter, and the results were much better with the use of a calculator, because the students needed to learn about perimeter rather than adding numbers.
Using rubrics is not new to most teachers and not new to the students. We use Excel for rubrics, which allows for the automatic calculation of the students' grades for a project. The rubric can be printed; however, the students get additional points if they use the electronic version. I read this suggestion in a section of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007) that deals with organizers. The base rubric has some consistencies, such as scores for grammar, citing sources, creativity, and organization. Each new rubric then gets specific entries; for instance, a biography on a mathematician would have a section for biographical completeness, whereas a mathematics dictionary would have a different section, for number of entries. The students, and the teacher, concentrate on the content of the rubric as opposed to the scoring.
Another section in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works concentrated on note-taking. I was pleasantly surprised that they advocate teacher-created notes especially in this age of word-processing. It hit close to home for me, and brought back my college years. I initially struggled in calculus, and visited my professor to get help. He was sympathetic, and sought a solution. After a brief discussion, he suggested that I was paying more attention to taking notes than following the material. He told me to continue to attend his first period class to take notes, but then return to another section of the course he taught later in the day and do nothing but pay attention. My understanding went through the roof, and my grades returned. I attempted to implement the teacher notes with my classes two years ago, and it met with limited success. Several students felt as if they did not need to pay attention because the notes were already written. The students did not feel like they had input to their notes. As a bit of more information, I am part of a program called AVID, and we utilize Cornell Notes as our method of note-taking. So we reached a compromise. Some of the notes had the headings pre-entered so the students would enter their own notes. Other sections would be the opposite, where the notes were already there, forcing them to determine the main topic. When examples are shown, the students are still fully responsible for their entries.
Overall, cognitive learning, or the limitations of attentions may throttle the information retained. However, with some simple realignments and ideas, we can refocus the students to higher level thinking by eliminating the distractions. Technology can assist by eliminating the tedious tasks, allowing the students to attain higher levels of thought analysis. If we can get one of the slots of short-term memory of our students, hold onto it, and turn it into a conduit for knowledge to flow into long-term memory, then the use of technology, cognitive learning, and instructional strategies can work in a symbiotic way rather than be mutually exclusive.
Do you have any more ideas on how to focus the students to higher levels of learning? If they pertain to mathematics, I would enjoy your contribution to this blog.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program six: Spotlight on technology: Virtual field trips [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.