Podcast #24

In this episode we’re joined by Michael Honsberger, neuroscientist and STEM project manager for the Yale Young Global Scholars program. Michael has a background studying memory including a PhD in behavioral neuroscience and a postdoc in Yale’s Division of Molecular Psychiatry. He talks to us about how we can use knowledge of how the brain works to become better teachers.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 About Michael Honsberger

4:29 The science of memory tells us that memory is not a recording: it’s a construction.

7:11 If memory is a construction, you need to start with the framework: Memorize the details after the framework is in place.

8:42 Memory science’s newcomer is reconsolidation. There is no filing cabinet in the brain–The act of retrieving a memory sometimes makes the memory plastic. If we couldn’t update memories, our brains would have to grow.

13:41 Is teaching changing beliefs? Is it harder than we imagine?

17:24 Getting some closure on memory. Surprise is one of the more reliable ways of “destabilizing” a memory–i.e., changing what students think they already know.

20:36 Cramming is just a lousy way to form memories. Massed practice is far less efficient than spaced practice.

23:10 What happens when students have access to online materials? Doug’s experience: lecture capture allows mass practice–and poor exam grades.

24:57 How do you motivate the students to do the work all along instead of cramming at the end?

25:39 Is there a neuroscientific basis for teaching using multiple forms of representation?

26:38 There’s not a filing cabinet: memories are not stores in one physical location.

28:10 How we can motivate our students to study effectively; Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

29:38 Teaching psychology as skills for life–and learning. Helping college students use Bloom’s taxonomy; Memorization isn’t enough in college.

34:51 College students can get better at metacognition: “hacking college.” Performing a quasi-experiment about metacognition.

40:54 Michael’s students with poor metacognition over-estimated the grade they would get in the course.

42:12 Do unrealistic students just have very poor metacognition? Not necessarily.

43:35 How do we get buy-in from students when we want to teach them how to learn? Trust is key. The syllabus is a contract that goes both ways. Mimicry behaviors can be strategically effective.

47:27 Emotion helps to enrich memory–e.g., personalizing information.

49:35 What Michael does now: teaching the teachers.

53:33 Three tips for using cognitive science in the classroom. Teaching students how to be students.

54:37 Accepting the students and helping them with their skills. Reading for mastery vs. recreation. You must read Tolstoy’s econ textbook.

56:56 Using the skills you’re teaching to students. Building a cognitive framework and teaching to skim.

59:32 Listen to this podcast again in a week. College is hacking yourself.

1:01:24 Epic teaching fail: fun but uninformative. Should teaching be serious? Or fun? Is this really a trade-off?

1:05:33 The first day of a course is not necessarily about learning.

Want to learn more about using insights from cognitive science in your teaching? Check out these links: