Testing boosts memory, study doesn’t

March 7, 2008

This is why football players remember the games better than they remember the practices.

Is this really news? It was a jarring reminder to me. Ed at Not Exactly Rocket Science (just before his blog was swallowed up by the many-tentacled Seed Magazine empire) noted a study that shows testing improves performance more than study.

But a new study reveals that the tests themselves do more good for our ability to learn that the many hours before them spent relentlessly poring over notes and textbook. The act of repeatedly retrieving and using learned information drives memories into long-term storage, while repetitive revision produced almost no benefits.

More quizzes instead of warm-up studies? More tests? Longer tests? What do you think? Certainly this questions the wisdom of high-stakes, end of education testing; it also calls into question the practice of evaluating teachers solely on the basis of test scores.  Much grist for the discussion mill.

Here’s the citation to the study: Karpicke, J.D., Roediger, H.L. (2008). The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning. Science, 319(5865), 966-968. DOI: 10.1126/science.1152408

Karpicke is at Purdue; Roediger is at Washington University in St. Louis.

Boost geology, boost science education

March 7, 2008

Kevin Padian’s article in February’s GeoTimes urges improvements in geology in textbooks, as a means of boosting science education and achievement overall.

I don’t want to imply that every geologist should be visiting third-grade classrooms and discussing radiometric dating with the students. That wouldn’t be comfortable for most of us, or most of them. But we can support a strong geological curriculum by getting involved in state and local textbook adoption procedures and curriculum development. Those folks need good scientific advice, and we need to listen to them to see how we can best meet their needs.

I’m actually going to suggest something even easier — something that most of us who teach in colleges and universities do all the time: improve the textbooks we use.

Texas’s state school board is running in exactly the opposite direction, undertaking several initiatives to dumb down science texts, even after approving a requirement for a fourth year of science classes required for graduation.

We can hope Texas’s policy makers will listen to veteran scientist educators like Padian.

Evolution of tetrapods, from Kevin Padian

Click thumbnail for larger chart to view. Evolution of Tetrapods, courtesy of Kevin Padian.

“Padian is a professor of Integrative Biology and curator in the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley, and president of the National Center for Science Education.”

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