Singapore schools: preparation for secondary school

September 30, 2014 by Amran | No Comments | Filed in Learning

The dreaded Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), one of high stakes examinations that a student in Singapore schools have to face is over for this year. Many students and parents and students heave a sigh of relief that the obstacle has been passed although they will still have to await the results of the examinations due to be released in the next few weeks. Many students will be looking forward to a fairly long holiday after the PSLE where textbooks, guidebooks and practice papers will be cast aside. Parents will leave their children alone at least until the school terms starts again in January.

scribbling 300x199 Singapore schools: preparation for secondary schoolIn January, the successful candidates of the PSLE, who will be mostly 13-year olds, will be moving along up a grade to what is known as secondary school to Secondary One next January. Most parents will then go through the usual routine of purchasing a new set of text books, uniforms and other necessities for school. They may even attend some form of orientation program by the schools. However, what many parents do not prepare their children for is life in Secondary One, and in a secondary school in general.

The main difference these students will face when they enter Secondary One is that they will experience sharp increase in the number of subjects from four to eight (or more, depending on the school and stream they will be in). This is a quantum jump for all students. The average student would do better if they are adequately prepared for this change in the number of academic subjects including subjects which will be new to them. While schools do try to help students make that adjustments through an orientation program of some sort, it is important that parents not rely on these programs alone. Furthermore, the preparation for the Secondary One students should begin before they report to their new schools.

The most important preparation that parents can provide is to prepare their children to cope with this sharp increase in the number of subjects. If parents have been sending their children for tuition for all four subjects that they had to sit for during the PSLE, are they expecting to send their children for more than four the moment they get into Secondary One? Bear in mind that the time taken up with private tuition in preparation for the PSLE already leaves the student with little time for anything else. Where is the child going to find the time for the extra subjects for private tuition? A different strategy is definitely required to help the child cope with the additional academic work load.

It is important therefore to think out of the “private tuition box”. Parents can help their children in the long run by equipping them with important skills. Parents should use the time between the PSLE and January the next year to equip their children with study skills that include note-taking, setting up a proper study and revision schedule, time management, goal setting, and learning self-motivation techniques.

In my next posting, I will be discussing what I believe is the proper way for students to take notes of their lessons, namely through the use of mind mapping techniques. The child will be an independent learner only if he has mastered effective note-taking skills. Mastery of note-taking is also a precondition for a truly active learner.

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Retrieving information from the brain

September 20, 2014 by Amran | No Comments | Filed in Learning

Our brain has the ability to store almost unlimited amounts of information indefinitely. We forget because it is the result of incorrectly or incompletely encoded memories, or problems with the retrieval (recall) process. In one of my earlier posts, I have written about how school has reduced learning to the level of trying to recall disparate pieces of information or “factlets”. Yet, school do little to teach students to be able to store and recall properly. It is often a hit-and-miss affair. We can avoid this if we understand how the brain works at storing and retrieving information.

pathways Retrieving information from the brain

Engrams are like pathways through the brain’s forest of memories

It is a well-known fact that retrieving information from the brain actually becomes easier with understanding of the meaning of the information. In other words, when information becomes knowledge. Information becomes knowledge when it has meaning to the person. For information to become meaningful it must be placed in the brain so that it becomes linked to other “pieces”of knowledge that already has meaning to the person. This link is crucial for retrieval and understanding of the new bit of information that is being added.

Another aspect of how the brain works is also important for us to understand in order for us to store and retrieve things in our brain or memory effectively. In terms of storage, experts have long divided the kind of memory storage in the brain to two basic types: short-term memory and long-term memory. From the names given to the two types of memory, it is obvious one is retained in our memory for only a short duration. We are more likely to forget things stored in the short-term memory bank after a short time. This is why, for example, if we forget names of people we have just met easily.

As for long-term memory, this is the part of our memory that is retained over the longest period of time due to some consolidation that has been done to that memory. The greater the consolidation, the more that memory is used or repeated. Long-term memories are actually stored in groups that are made ready to be used together in the same pattern that was originally created. It seems also that long-term memory may even be encoded redundantly many times in various parts of our brain. So if one engram (memory trace) is wiped out, there will be duplicate or alternative pathways for the memory to be retrieved.

Therefore, among some of the things that are required to be successful academically, a student will need to be able to efficiently store a lot of information in their long-term memory quickly, and also be able to retrieve them quickly. As mentioned before, this is done through consolidation. Consolidation can be done through repetition. But repetition alone may not be the most effective method of recalling (remembering) information. As has been mentioned earlier, one way to consolidate our memory, or to put it in long-term memory, is to seek to achieve understanding. Understanding, which comes about when disparate bits of information are organised in a coherent meaningful pattern, helps in consolidation because duplicate or alternative pathways for the memory to be retrieved are created. These alternative pathways are created because with understanding, bits of information are linked in many ways to other bits of information that has already been consolidated. It is like many pathways have been built to the same bit of information. For example, when we think of “home”, we think of our childhood home, or our own home in adulthood, or that home is associated with safety, or Mum’s cooking and so on. So even if one pathway or link is forgotten, there are other pathways to retrieve that information. The strength of that memory, and its ability to be retrieved, is directly proportional to the number of pathways. This also means that “factlets” or disparate bits of information are less likely to be easily stored in the long-term memory. What all these implies for the student is that he has to seek to reach understanding of what he is learning as far as possible.

However, we know that students today often have to remember lots of factlets. The student therefore has to learn how to store these factlets as quickly as possible into the long-term memory. The way to do so is to create clear pathways that will link with knowledge that is already stored in the brain. This is why memory systems that have been created to help people remember quickly and longer works through a system of links or association. The links are done in a specific way or through a specific path. This path needs to be consciously created and not be left to chance. It becomes easier to remember something when more specific paths are created to that particular piece of information. But note that they are specific paths, not something haphazardly done. To put it simply, to remember and recall something new effectively you need to associate or link that thing with things that you already know well. This linking or association is the basis of all memory systems that has been popularized to improve our memory.

Send an email to me if you want to find out more about effective and successful learning and recall strategies for your children.

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More on intermittent fasting and your memory and intelligence

September 19, 2014 by Amran | No Comments | Filed in Diet

In my last post, I have shared how intermittent fasting can actually improve our memory and intelligence. Much of what I have written is based on the work of Professor Mark Mattson who works for a non-profit organization. His research is in an area that the pharmaceutical industry has thus far avoided because it does not bring the latter profits if nothing is sold but only abstained as in fasting.

Michael Mosley, who interviewed Professor Mattson, has written a “controversial” book, “The FastDiet” which proposes a diet that many have found to be a useful approach to becoming healthier.

On top of that, as Professor Mattson’s research has shown it also improves your brain power and help keep brain diseases, like Alzheimar’s disease or dementia away in your old age.

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