As educators, we want our students’ learning to be enduring and transferable: enduring in that they can recall information they learned in the past and flexible in that they can apply this learning in different situations and transfer it to a new problem or domain.
Fortunately, we can use ‘the science of learning’, insight into how our brains learn, remember, and make connections, to ensure that our students’ learning sticks!
This post will highlight four simple, yet effective techniques based on the science of learning that will increase your students’ ability to retain information and apply it in new settings: spaced repetition, metacognition, analogizing, and interleaving.
Below, I’ll share four activities based on these science of learning techniques, briefly explain why they work, and provide some additional context and resources. These activities are powerful because they are easy to implement, require little to no additional grading, and are applicable across most disciplines and topics!
- What is it: Brain Dump is a timed exercise in which you ask students to write down everything they know about a topic they’ve learned earlier in the semester.
- Example: Write down everything you’ve learned about specialization in 2 minutes.
- Why it works: Brain Dump is an example of retrieval practice, which is when learners recall and apply examples of previously learned knowledge or skills after a period of forgetting. Research has shown that long-term learning comes from actively recalling information from memory as opposed to simply reading.
- Relevant Kentucky Economics standard: HS.E.ST.1 Draw conclusions regarding the effect of specialization and trade on production, distribution and consumption of goods and services for individuals, businesses and societies.
- Additional resource: MRU has an international trade unit plan that incorporates retrieval practice and other science of learning techniques.
- What is it: Ask students to assess how confident they are for each question before answering any questions. For questions for which they are not sure, students are instructed to look up the answer first.
- Example: Here is a metacognition worksheet related to supply and demand concepts. This template comes from Powerful Teaching.
- Why it works: This worksheet is helping students in metacognition, the process of thinking about their thinking. Metacognition teaches students to identify their knowledge gaps and take control of their learning process.
- Relevant Kentucky Economics standard: HS.E.MI.2 Analyze and graph the impact of supply and demand shifts on equilibrium price and quantities produced.
- Additional resources: MRU’s interactive practice provides real-time feedback, another useful tool to encourage metacognition. Crucially, it provides elaborative feedback as well as feedback on incorrect answers which has been shown to improve students’ understanding of concepts. MRU has a supply and demand unit plan that incorporates metacognition and other science of learning techniques.
- What is it? Have students compare and contrast an educational concept to some familiar object or concept.
- Example: How is Gross Domestic Product like a supermarket? How is it not like a supermarket?
- Relevant Kentucky Economics standard: HS.E.KE.3 Analyze how the four components of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are combined to assess the health of Kentucky’s economy.
- Why it works: Analogizing is “creating an explicit, nonliteral comparison between two objects or sets of objects that describe their structural, functional, and/or causal similarities.” (Newby, Ertmer, and Stepich, 1995) Research shows that analogizing improves a student’s ability to transfer and apply knowledge to different topics and domains.
- Additional resource: MRU has a GDP unit plan that incorporates analogizing and other science of learning techniques.
- What is it? Mix questions from different chapters.
- Example: Mix questions related to monopoly, oligopoly, and perfect competition with questions related to economic growth and standards of living.
- Relevant Kentucky Economics standard: HS.E.MI.1 Compare perfect competition, monopolistic competition, oligopoly and monopoly and how the extent of competition within various markets affects price, quantity and variety in production.
- Additional resources: Powerful Teaching’s website has wonderful guidance on interleaving and lots of additional resources on other science of learning techniques.
Remember, you can incorporate these techniques into almost any lesson and these do not require additional grading! By giving your students learning strategies that will help them encode, retain, and retrieve information, you are setting your students up for success in your classroom and success in future learning endeavors.
Mary Clare Peate is the director of curriculum at MRU and currently serves on the board of the Journal of Economics Teaching. In a past life, she held several education-related roles, including middle school teacher and textbook editor. She holds a Master’s degree in education and a PhD in economics. Please reach out with any questions (email@example.com)!